Engaged Self-Portrait

I know my peasant’s mind will torture me forever
with the similarities in the techniques for bathing
shared by all the women who have let me watch.

The back arches deliciously and the closed eyes
face the ceiling for all hair washing maneuvers, bath or shower.
Gravity and the ribs are good friends with soap in the steam.
The breasts are never given adequate attention, I feel.

In September, marriage is so close upon us, I’m beset with sifting
out the little poisonous spores of myself, the handfuls of sick silt
that would choke us out of love, and I’m worried this bathtub study is one.

But it’s the beginning of autumn here, usually a contrary time anyway.
All the trees seem shaggy in defeat, before the reds and yellows
rally them into winter solemnity.  And pudgy squirrels dart around
with a flirtatious haste, as if they’re daring the freeze to find them.

The gay couple across the street is fighting, parting
wordlessly to their cars in the morning.  Their shouting in the evening
reaches us while we cook chicken. 

Brian thinks Todd is a queeny bitch.  I smash the thighs apart
with a wood spoon, then dig in the meat for pink with a fork.
Jesse flicks the seeds out of split jalapenos. 
Todd, I think (he’s got the arm for it) throws something heavy, metal,
and a soft piece flies off (the wood handle of a frying pan?).

I think it’s my duty to pray against the gods of separation for them,
as if I have stronger sway than they in the fate of relationships.
I have seen Brian’s abstract paintings hung in the coffee shop,

and I think he could stand some concrete advice, but they sell,
actually, as quick as he puts them up.  And Todd
has enough friends for monthly volleyball games,
so he’s probably covered for all the counsel he could need.

We want to interfere in the lives of others when we feel
circumstances have made us as vulnerable as leaves drifting over the interstate. 

I want to lecture acquaintances and win them to my side,
to insulate against the winter I smelled last night,

just a gauze of hazy decay.  The stars were out, and I thought
I could hear the last spider web thinning the final swarm of gnats.
Months from now, I’ll watch the false thaw sketch falling figures
in the driveways.  I’ll search for our faces in the stalled melt,

the tarnished color of forgotten silver.  They’ll never be there.

Soon, it will be bath weather.  Jesse’s side will get cold first,
the faucet will grind into my spine.  I'll have a fire
that could boil us through each winter of our lives together
when I finally burn the awful love poems I’ve written her.
I will wash her in the ways I’ve never seen.

Josh English

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