American Portrait (5)

by Ken Harnisch

One night, Lester McCarron noisily folds his newspaper

And glances at his wife

Who is too engrossed in HBO

To notice him at first

When she does, the look he’s giving her

Chills her heart a bit

And she says, “What? What?”

Eyes dancing sideways to the stairs, Lester says,
“Do you think Karlene is having sex?”


“What kind of question…” his wife says indignantly

“Of course not, she’s only seventeen.

She just got back from her missionary work

In Edmonton

She’s God’s child, pure as snow

How could you even think…”


Lester stares again, more cognizant than his wife perhaps

Of that unsaid part of her biography

How in 1969, she too was a Christian girl

Only 16

Whose boyfriend was quite insistent

On all too many warm Wisconsin nights

That if God had anything against sex

He wouldn’t have made it so beautiful

So pure, so wonderful

It is not something they talk about much,

Lester being the type not to remind himself of his days

As a salesman

And his wife, not wanting to be reminded

How easy she was to sell.


“That was different,” his wife says, after a pause.

 “Those were wild times.

Drugs. The War. Woodstock

For a moment, they both seem lost in a reminiscent fog

Both conjuring the aborted trip to Yasgur’s farm

In a lime-green VW Microbus.

They got as far as Sandusky, Ohio

And spent the night near a cornfield


With no thought to God, His laws, or consequence

Until they got back home


“It’s not that different now,” Lester says. “Only by degree.”

But his wife is adamant. “No,” she says

“A woman would know. No.”

The clock ticks on the mantelpiece

And Mrs. McCarron goes on watching the Sopranos

Until the clomping on the stairs

Announces Karlene’s attempted flight outside.


“And where do you think you’re going, young lady?” Mrs. M. says,

Her wrathful voice like buckshot burst.

The girl just shrugs, and shakes a blond head suddenly

Seeming to Lester to be dazzling and oh-so-beautiful

That he winces, looking to his wife as if he’s looking in the mirror

So many years ago.

“Out,” Karlene says. “With John.”

“You’ll do no such thing, Karlene,” her mother says.

“And change that skirt. It’s much too short.

And who said you could wear lip gloss… 

It’s so…so…suggestive…sinful..”

The girl just gapes in pure astonishment

Tears bursting from her eyes.

Looking to her father for support

But he just says, in an even voice, “Do what your mother says, Kar.

Do what your mother says.”


When the house is quiet and the girl’s sobs have receded some

Mr. McCarron folds his newspaper and says

“We could have handled that better, don’t you think?”

And Mrs. McCarron, who sees at last, says,
“Why? What does it matter anymore?

The barn door’s closed, the horse is out.

You’re right. Is that what you wanted to hear?

You’re right.”

Yet, the knot of black fear in her throat

Is not for her daughter

But for the conflicted girl

She thought she knew

Once, in the summer of Peace and Love.


Author's Note: I wrote this in August, 2001...a month later, for obvious reasons( as shall be seen), I wrote American 6, which, again for obvious reasons, became the last in the series.....

Posted on 01/10/2003
Copyright © 2022 Ken Harnisch

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Kate Demeree on 01/12/03 at 01:51 PM

I for one shall be sad to see the series end as I enjoy them alot. You impart so much in these tales and they never leave your readers wanting. Looking forward to reading 6.

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