from Spencer Reece, The Clerk’s Tale
We are two men on a park bench
in Palm Beach oblivious to the two men
who start their truck with that boy
from the bar inside dragging him
in the dark to the fence strapping him
with a rope to a post in Laramie,
Wyoming, where he freezes and dies
over five days. My dear, it is late.
The Flagler Museum is shut.
Stay with me. Remain here with me.
Because of its hierarchical image structure, Spencer Reece’s “Interlude” destroys me.
Restrained by geography, yet omnipresent, the speaker is one of two gay men sitting together “on a park bench / in Palm Beach oblivious to the two men….”
Shamelessly smitten with each other, the two lovers are oblivious to what’s around them. It’s the start to a familiar romantic image. Or is it?
A secondary image develops; complicates the primary image: “oblivious to the two men // who start their truck with that boy / from the bar inside dragging him….” Two men intent on love dissolves into two men intent on violence.
It’s no accident the first punctuation (comma) appears, like a signpost’s stake, after “Laramie” in couplet three. Given the how, what, and where, one familiar with the details has now identified the players: Aaron McKinney, Russell Henderson, and “that boy,” Matthew Shepard—a gay man too far from the lovers in Palm Beach.
Shepard “freezes and dies / over five days,” ending the secondary image and also, finally, the first sentence. Then, in a forced attempt to lighten the mood, an abrupt volta returns the poem to the primary image: “My dear, it is late. // The Flagler Museum is shut.” Eschewing omnipresence, and some omniscience, the speaker returns to his lover—to do what? How can he still claim love’s oblivion and its tenderness after witnessing, at least psychically, a gay man’s murder?
Although the mood’s less ominous, make no mistake, the speaker’s breath has shifted—the last couplet contains three short sentences. Barely sentences, the last two imperatives (“Stay with me. Remain with me.”) are laconic, cautious, and measured.
In the wake of the elegy’s interlude, love grows sober, fiercer. The speaker understands what happens in Laramie can happen in Palm Beach; happen anywhere.
Tommye Blount is the author of Fantasia for the Man in Blue, Four Way Books, 2020.