Home > Poetry > The Motel Owner and His Wife
Published: Sat Oct 15 1977
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
AGNI 7 Journeys Home Relationships
The Motel Owner and His Wife

_            _It began on Columbus Day. By then all the guests had
left, leaving them a strapless yellow satin evening gown, a tran-
sistor radio from Hong Kong, and a pencil box from “Leo’s
Lion Preserve” thirty miles away, in Burnesville. And in the
following week it remained unspoken of, as Harold vacuumed
the floors and Edith washed and packed the sheets and tow-
els. Together they boarded up the windows.
_               _As the list taped to the wall beside the kitchen door grew
a web of thick red lines over its neatly penciled columns, their
anxiety (which was their only possible response to their un-
spoken desire) rose in the morning with the efficiency of sun-
rise. And spread through their days like the sharp autumn
wind that had begun blowing in from offshore. In short, the
days were filled with the wish that the hours would pass.
_               _Finally, after everything was accounted for, Harold disap-
peared; only to reappear two mornings later, walking noncha-
lantly down the graveled path, past the reddish-orange flamingo
and rusted hibachi in front of the sign, Sun & Surf, as Jonathan.

_               _The imprint of hundreds of other bodies had settled into
the air, filling it with an indelible staleness. The room was
darker than he expected (even with the boards removed), and
colder. Regardless, Jonathan began unpacking his suitcase.
Two heart-shaped gold cufflinks gleamed beside the ashtray
where a cigarette smoldered.
_               _Luckily the yellow gown fit her perfectly. Now all that
was needed was a story.

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John Yau is the author of the monograph Joe Brainard: The Art of the Personal (Rizzoli, 2022) and a book of poems, Genghis Chan on Drums (Omnidawn, 2021). His forthcoming publications include a selection of essays, Please Wait by the Coatroom: Reconsidering Race and Identity in American Art (Black Sparrow, 2023), and a book of poems, Tell It Slant (Omnidawn, 2023). He is publisher of Black Square Editions and regularly writes reviews for Hyperallergic. The recipient of the 2018 Jackson Prize in poetry and the 2021 Rabkin Award in art criticism, he lives in New York. (updated 4/2023)

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