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Nine nights into their European vacation

And she still felt superimposed on the place

This was Sheila’s idea of her first trip outside the States –

That she and Sam weren’t really part of Paris yet

But pasted onto photos she loved as a high schooler

At Langley, where Monsieur Wallace would insist

En francais, Mademoiselle! Though it was in plain English

That he told her, from the driver’s seat, in the rain:

“Look, Sheila, I have a wife, a family, I could go to jail for this.”

Around that time she began saving to leave Jersey, to get out,

To walk London and Paris, with a husband, which she finally did,

Thanks to Atlantic City and the death of Sam’s aunt.

Along the Pont des Arts, which the book told them

Was the first metal bridge across the Seine,

Sheila noticed the scores of padlocks and remembered when

Sam’s bicycle was locked to hers behind Langley

That’s how it began: by accident, already entangled

The new boy from Tucson who hadn’t heard about her,

About Wallace, about her father in the teachers parking lot,

Smashing windows with his nine-iron, shouting something,

Something about Sheila, “my baby girl,” and broken noses.

She probably loved him then, even before he came to unlock his bike

The red Schwinn that he weirdly resembled: tall, geometric, rickety even

Whatever Sam heard from teammates, he simply ignored

Looking forward, never back, to their first kiss (which wasn’t French),

To the wedding, to children (a trio of sons), to retirement, to Vegas

Where she wore a blue dress and looked longingly at the  miniature Eiffel.

On a dare, she ate escargot in Rue Jacob

Sheila called them “a delicacy”; Sam called them “snails”

But an empty stomach since produced dizziness

And downright elation at the bridge’s center

Where they watched a young couple, almost ritualistically,

Lock, kiss, and throw away the key

And all around them, love’s graffiti,

The urban equivalent, she thought, of trees

With lovers’ initials etched in branches and boughs –

Four strokes of a switchblade and you have a heart –

She thought also of Langley and her disgrace

Though Sam was smiling and had in his open hand

A lock from his luggage, a lock too tiny to protect anything,

Which they fastened to the railing in the rain.

– Breckenridge, CO (7/2011)