These houses, deadleaf brick, each room
a sealed box of wood and plaster, worm scaled,
gorgeous as a seance, music
in the sigh of every tenured joist.
Mandarin wax clots Oriental carpets slowly
unlooming. This graduate twilight. Padding
the ruptured bricks, past Trader Joe’s
bags tumescent with plastic, I’m no
threat. And you, breathless three miles away.
This is where we meant to land, but let’s not
maudle while these strangers’ tidal
lawns lap iron gates, and I’m another
middle-aged witness crying in the street.
That first night, we sat on my dormitory
floor, precariously wired. What did we say?
Which hall, which room, was mine?
I’ll search the campus maps online
for hours and still not remember. What I do:
your purple polo, collar popped, and how
we moved imperceptible as fractions
through the hours until, hoarse and hollow,
rumor of sunlight in the window, we bridged
that final, irremediable inch. Your unfolded
palm. The fall of hair by your left eye.
My god, we drove how many midnights
out for cigarettes and the joy of sailing
REM’s Out of Time through my junked
Rabbit, ceiling fabric bellowed with cold
air. Wasn’t it cold, even in April, even
when I wrecked the daffodils and a fifth
the first time we split, when Chris and Sarah
drew me to their drafty house, thesis pages
drifting on ash floors, antique dust
and blanched quilts, a battered coffepot?
Would you know their street, or what you said
when you woke me the next morning, so bright
and sad, or what else it was your mother
said when I came to drive us to our first
apartment, and she chased you through rooms
smothered in white wool, Lysol spray and rubber
gloves to decontaminate the faggotry with which
I’d doomed you. I recall a single
line, camp chestnut delivered with the best
grande dame guignol she’d got: “He looks like he’s
gonna give you AIDS.” I wish I’d forgotten
less, since she’s the one who’ll see you
to the gate. I need to zoom in tight, to catch
a carat of sorrow in her eye, a mote of tender
scruple. Later, when pain became the static
through which our voices broke too
infrequently to save each other, when
our glamorous Kodachromes were safely burned,
remember how we slept beneath a press-on sky,
dosed with poppers, cock, and wine,
how tenderly we tried to say nothing
we couldn’t take back? That last apartment
stifling in August, the cheap lino weeping
at our feet. A drought of boxes. Videos
melting into milk crates. If we had
failed one another differently,
we might be home by now.
Erik Schuckers studied literature and writing at Allegheny College and the University of Sheffield. He has worked as a janitor, an apple picker, a medical records clerk, and as a bookseller in the US and UK, and he currently lives in Pittsburgh. His poems have appeared in Assaracus, PANK, The Fourth Wall, The Allegheny Review, and elsewhere.
This poem is not previously published.