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Venus
by Jim Armstrong

In the Tioga bar, to one side of the bowling trophies and pennants,
there is a black-and-white photograph of a woman. She's naked
except for a plaid hunting cap and a pair of hip boots.
She is holding a shotgun. The year is 1940.
Her lipstick looks like a smear of tar.
She stands in two dimples of water, beside grey cattails.
You can tell she is not a serious hunter.
Is she cold? Her nipples are two hard beads.
Does she feel degraded, knee-deep in the current?
The photograph promises all the delicate shadows:
the ridges of her young belly, the small, damp curls
between her thighs, her elegant neck.
She is eighteen, and fills us utterly
with a yearning that is ripeness, and against which
we have no protection.

In Florence, she would have been given demure hands like a saint's,
and a sea behaving in crisp waves, and a wind
from Olympus. She would have been offered a cloak of flowers.

But she is in Michigan. She must stand in the mud
wearing a plaid hat. She must hold the cold barrel
and pretend to watch for wild wings, though the sky
is empty, though there is nothing for miles around
but her nakedness.



Jim Armstrong was raised in Michigan, where he first learned the pleasures of landscape. He has an M.F.A. in poetry from Western Michigan University and a Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University. He currently teaches creative writing at Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.

This poem was originally published in the Winter 1997 issue of Orion. To order a copy of this issue, please visit The Orion Society Marketplace, call (413) 528-4422, write The Orion Society, 195 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230, or e-mail us at orion@orionsociety.org.

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