Skip to main content


ISSUE:  Winter 2023


My therapist says a boy with a secret
is easy to control. I wonder how
Steve learned mine, if I told him
in solidarity what happened
when I was nine. Of course, I wouldn’t
have thought of it that way.
On the scale of his transgressions, telling it
to a den full of teenagers, hanging me out
to dry, wasn’t, for example, one of the many
that could have had him put away.
That I was wrong and deserved to be shunned,
the cause and not the effect;
that he’d drugged me, filmed me,
that the unpredictable cruelties
and distain that became my lot were the price
of my privilege, I accepted,
even long after moving.
So maybe it wasn’t really betrayal
I felt, so much as embarrassment,
when it got back to me a decade later
what he’d done, and how,
a man in his forties, deflecting
for an audience of teens.
Which is why, when I called him up, enraged,
and wouldn’t believe his denials or give him quarter
in the long passage of time, why,
since our relationship was transactional,
mortgaged from the start on what happened:
at Steve’s; to me—
why his indiscretion could be leveraged,
as long as I could be made
to feel indebted. So he raised
his voice against mine and turned
the blame, before I knew it, back on me.
And when I retreated,
when I apologized, heeled,
he applied the balm, he opened up
the coffers of his attention, inviting me
out to his mom’s for the weekend.
He’d pay me to help—his back was shot—
put down pavers by the peacock cage.
Scruffy grad student, I flattered myself
that I was doing research,
I’d capture the voice of the aging
outlaw, the loneliness—
after all those bachelor years—
of moving in with his mom
when his dad passed, living across
the highway from a high school,
collecting disability. Peachicks
arriving by mail. I accepted
the bumps of morphine, prescribed
for his back, his portrait
in purple over the door
of the shed he built from a kit
to hang out and smoke in,
the same drug administered
at one center till they got shut down
for keeping the old and sick too drugged to leave.
Attar of poppy, crushed under Vulcan’s tonnage,
sleep pressed up close to her twin—
they called Morpheus the Fashioner
and Vulcan Mulciber the Softener.
He called his mom Mother.
He was petulant with her,
her rooms spacious and spotless
middle class, galvanized rustic,
whitewashed, inspirational
cursive. He fancied himself
groundskeeper, talking up his pride
of summer flowers, the kiddy pool
he liked to float around in
like a wild eye. Which is why I let him
take me around in his dad’s Silverado:
I was being reinstated, remunerated
with a literary opportunity, which,
much to his delight, was already
mediating him, eliding
the cognitive dissonance
of my being twenty-eight
now and living in another state.
In the Salvation Army on the Parkway
I remembered the first time I went thrifting:
Christmas Eve, he bought me a bundle
of sweaters to give my family.
Everyone likes sweaters.
From his Army days, he knew his way
around a drop-ceilinged warehouse,
Lysol scrim and dusty linoleum.
Across the racks, he was in his fifties now,
a bit bloated, glazed eyes like a spouse
on his sarcophagus, speakers
in Electronics piping in
one seventies hit after another
I knew from him. I fooled around and fell
in love… Which is why, lying there
that night in a strange, sterile bedroom,
I felt my howling deficit
in the names of distant townships—
Tarrant, Dixiana, Blountsville, Arab.
And got up, prodded by panic,
and walked past the kitchen with its silver
sheathed from the moon, the hallway
hung with pictures of the husband,
sons, grandkids. Couldn’t sleep?
he said, when I slid in beside him
in the windowless dark,
keeping to the edge. 



This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading