On the Shoulder of September
First week of September, accused of touching a student
inappropriately, I was called to the principal’s office
on my off-period. Knot in my tie too tight, I didn’t dare
adjust it. He raised one finger, less to indicate a start,
more like reassuring. Unfortunately, this student does this
with all of her new male teachers, he said. We’re sure
you’ve done nothing wrong. He stood & walked me
to the door, but, before opening it, softly added: The father.
Sunlight fell through a window in the hallway
onto a missing tile, revealing the old asbestos floor beneath.
7th period came, but her chair was empty. Driving home,
the steering wheel burned & flecks of pleather stuck to my hands.
Later, the news read 113 degrees, a record high that stands,
but, on highway 95, between Elgin & Bastrop, I couldn’t see.
Heat, afternoon glare, sunblind & afraid of oncoming traffic
I had to pull over. Shielding my eyes, I looked the other way
& only when the earth turned enough to shade the road
leading from the junior high, could I continue on.
Rain today, mother, not the act but its residue and
driving all I see is you before the rapids, holding tight
the side of an innertube with one hand, Lone Star
with the other. Guadalupe green and wide. Floating
near the riverbank you’re headed toward a system
of exposed, high roots that form a sky-lit tunnel.
Picturing it, it looks inviting. Imagining it, every time,
it looks okay. But the roots flip you over. White water
turns to white noise, and the tangle holds you down. They
say a sure sign of a serial killer is a child who tortures
and kills defenseless animals, but I’ve never killed
anybody here. In fact, saved a few. People. Animals.
One kitten I caught I won’t soon forget. Dead black.
Green eyes like searching through night vision goggles.
She didn’t care when I spun her on the kitchen floor,
never cried or howled. And afterward, she waited for
her eyes to finish slot-machining, didn’t try to get away
or crash into the cabinetry, scared. No. Walked over, sat.
Looked me up and calmly said, “Asshole,” with a smile.
That night I dreamt of walking barefoot on a bed of nails,
and there came a biting pain so real it ordered me awake.
By my feet hanging off the end of my mattress on the floor:
that kitten. Green eyes trained on me, zeroed in. Named her
then and there. Whispered one time to make it real: Scout.
Her place was at the foot of my mattress. Until it wasn’t.
Summer air smells like spit drying on flesh after the rain.
Strongest in the woodlands between subdivisions. Today,
three mockingbirds drove a stubborn jay from a tall pecan.
Some kids’ dirt fort melted, freeing its captive pages of
bondage pornography. Near my truck, walking a snarl
of mesquite, a little black carcass woven in between.
A line of ants had carried away her eyes, but I knew
who it was. From how she’d been done in. Full bore
running down whatever she was chasing, the moment
leading the way. Executing without a second thought
then stuck inside the results. No going back now.
Was it Spring in Budapest?
Medusa’s Gala? Tobacco Leaf
or Wedgwood Florentine? All
I know is we were told, more
than once, the china was inherited.
So, being cautious, of course
I clutzed the spoon loudly off
my plate, chipping its edge.
As luck would have it, the guest
of honor, a working artist, had just
commandeered the conversation
with no slight amount of verve.
Push no small paint! When one’s
focus is on minor details, timidity,
caution, undoes the entire canvas
invariably. I fingered the chip
like tip of an eyetooth missing.
It helps to not look directly at
what you’re looking at. Try to
take the whole scene in at once.
The way to fight 4 foes is to not
concentrate on one. Familiar
ruts of reception. Be periphery.
Time and time again, after two
whiskeys and an Ambien, wings
unfurl and carry me outside
reaches of my vision. Returning
with a limoncello, I saw intent
across the table from a demon.
Politely trading the meringue
for porcelain bloom of butterfly
to stroke the edge of bitterness
with an artless splash of cream.
If I’d Known You Were Going to Call, Grandmother
I would not have spent that entire morning
masturbating, & if I had known the message
left on my machine would be your last words
I’m sure I would have answered, even then.
As it happened, head shaking, horrified
laughter was all I could do. That, & continue
with the work at hand until I heard the words,
“I’ll always have my memories,” whereupon
we both were stilled in a pause lasting longer
than typically it takes to hang up the phone.
& then you died, grandmother. You died
in your bed, in your house, alone.
Until this moment, I never returned your call.
That day, like part of an antique mirror long
desilvering, now has become clear. I can see
you in your dim, pastel kitchen, Death & Memory
mixing another round of Bloody Caesars
as you reach for the phone. After your message,
though I hadn’t finished, I was through. Time
to clean & return every item to its proper place.
Move back the furniture. Listen to your message
& curse embarrassed laughter one more time.
Jasmine vines surrounding my garage apartment
had climbed spreading out far as they could,
then found a way inside my bedroom beneath
the window by the phone. Near the end of each
erect branchlet: flowers budding whitish gray.
I dressed then sat in a hand of glaring sunlight,
reading absently, already filled with knowledge
of the upcoming night. I’d meet people I knew,
some I didn’t. Constant music would propel us,
& the air. But grandmother, I know. Spark flares
into a ghosting streak of matchlight & always
dark booth-corner faces. I became cloud, took
place in formation looming enclosed horizons,
traded stars for neon Pearl and Dixie eventide
on lacquered wood-top sea. We were only waiting
grandmother, waiting to talk. Buoyed by the sound
of life in our own voices. & perhaps another round.
Eric Roy has poetry forthcoming at Third Coast, Salamander, Bennington Review, Westerly, and Sugar House Review. His poems can also be found at Poetry South, Green Mountains Review, The Minnesota Review, Tampa Review, Salt Hill, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere. His debut chapbook “All Small Planes” is forthcoming from Lily Poetry in March 2021.