A man I didn’t love
died today—a growth
in his colon’s fragile spiral.
I’d said hey at a bar; clocked
his chest’s gray hairs sprouting
through an unbuttoned collar.
His husband was away—a place swollen
with toucans—for work. He’ll hear all
about you, the man said & I liked his knowing
I’d admired their hardwood
floors & railing spindles.
In their en suite, the husband
dried larkspur with bachelor’s buttons
& orris root. Its redolence slipped
into the bedroom. I learned
the husband baked scones. Read French.
Folded napkins into sea shells. The man
was proud of these talents & looked
at my calves. With a twist I unmade
their bed. Held his damp
chest against my tongue. He must have
gripped my hand. I filled
that room with thicker scents.
to inspect garments soiled with sweat
or pinot noir. Took notes of torn hems
& buttons lost. For a couple hundred
I performed a service that preserved
bridal gowns in cardboard coffins. I emptied
pockets of those forgotten things
that scaffold a life: receipts & pennies,
wrapped Trojans, kleenex stiff with snot.
I untied a bag once & found a fist
of bloodied, soft-serve stool
in the seat of pleated Dockers—felt Satan’s
seven tongues lick. My own body kept
itself well then—never a bone
out of place—but there was that looming
pile, red as the Utah mud
my grandfather fled his dead for.
I thought of him alive with
the younger man, Keith,
in a photograph I keep at my desk
of the two gazing out
from Zion’s Narrows toward burning
sandstone, twisted arthritic—
treated by the elder sun’s pulse
into bitterbrush. Did Keith caress
a cloth between my grandfather’s thighs?
He might have stared
at the bedpost I inherited
with its maple finish—touched
one of the knobs at its head for support
before soaping the old man’s
scrotal hairs. Maybe he stroked
my grandfather’s forehead. Kissed
his clean penis. The shopkeeper’s bell
rang as a customer pushed
inside & covered his mouth
against what I still held.
Edited by Elizabeth Upshur and Jerica Taylor.
The featured image was created for this piece by our Art Director, Meg Sykes.