Date Night

Unfurling hair, smeared
makeup, sweating, groaning,
crying about the lobster
bisque, she whimpers
it had a “color,” between
squeezes of her stomach
like contractions, amid
toilet-papered dabs of her
forehead—how did it come
on so quickly? She flushes
the toilet again, an eddying
archipelago of fresh digestions.
Behind the shower curtain,
in the tub, he cups warm
water from the rushing
faucet, ladles it in weighty
dollops over his own
sickness, grimaces at the
immiscible mixture swirling
down the drain. They can’t
see each other but they
smell each other: guttural
coughs, angry emissions,
nauseous throbs. They
wonder: is this ever going
to end? Two bodies in
unison, begging for release.


Beautiful dwellings evince grandeur
grass-stained work pants have never
understood, a belt chafed from use, sweat
stains, a camo ball-cap. This world into
which I stumbled—laying tile in one of its
nine bathrooms—reinforced every haughty
typecast, snobbery success so refined
like a membership by birthright. Len and Barb
served us sandwiches from the back of their
Subaru Forrester, served them by hand on paper
plates; cans of Diet Coke, store-brand plastic
bottles of water, a shared box of Cheez-Its.
Condescension dances in limbo, a difficult
thing to discern, but they’re feeding us. Len
makes eye contact, shakes hands with the grip
of an MBA, told us about the treework
he did in college. I wanted him to like me,
to laugh at my jokes, and I apologized for how
I looked. Stereotypes taste like ham and cheese
on wheat and I wondered if Len and Barb did
all of this themselves: drive to Hannaford’s
like the rest of us, roam aisles like the rest of us,
purse our lips when sales expire. Can the world
be that small when you can choose between
nine bathrooms? I wonder if they stood in line,
too, regarded the single parent paying with WIC
checks and believed they knew what it was like
to be them.

We Were Told

Including classmates who otherwise feel excluded,
like Joe, was “important,” the boy who clutched
his Trapper-Keeper underneath an oversized
raincoat like a shoplifter, and from our gaggles
of duffle bags and insecurities, we teased him
because it was easy like tantalizing a panther
in its cage, the way Rilke described. I remember
his long, quiet strides over the woodchips
in the playground, each sneakered footfall insistent,
yearning for freedom, a reprieve from banality, for
without those bars we were dandelions in a hurricane’s
path: weak weeds, invaders. I wonder if Joe remembers
what we said, what we hollered to him from the safety
of our ignorance. But what did we know? So, we left
it at that. Joe lived his life as did we. Maybe if we
abandon our guilt like a boulder tossed
over a bridge, maybe if we sent it crashing at night,
plummeting to a quiet river’s rumble, maybe then…
at least no one would see the mess we made.