as a Husband

I like to fall asleep low on the bed
so my face is level with my wife’s breasts,
my legs angled out from the bed like skis.
Outside, crickets wail city terrors.
Wires in the walls shuttle crackling electricity
over cotton fields of fraying insulation.
Nine summers ago I stapled those pink swaths
to the roof of a tobacco barn being cheaply converted.
All day, the fiberglass chaff dusted down my sleeves,
prickled in my eyes, nostrils, mouth, snagged
like little fishing lines all along my chest,
itched down the back of my neck, and carried
like sketching water spiders down streams of sweat.
I imagined love as this kind of abrasive limning, a coarse dazzle,
my eyes watering as I stumbled my way
to the old pump, feeling my blind way down the path,
guided by tall wildflowers that nodded assent as I went.
I had no idea that this assassin’s clarity would develop
with my fattened, married heart.  I can spot it
in other young husbands too.
In the produce isle, we swipe at lemons
and listen to the warring acids behind the rind,
we study the V of returning geese
honking over the parking lot
and let the ice cream go sudsy in its flimsy box.
Suddenly, we relish the dense strategy of card games.
Playing pick-up, we coach the chumps
who raise a defensive knee for a lay-up
to just jump, man, and sink the fucker
and be done with it.  Instead of every shadow,
or each red light run, my death is a scrap of paper
blown through the wind tunnel of a bird’s mind.
I can hear my name sung in the insect hum
of settling night.  On nights
when I imagine the neighborhood in a blaze,
when the blanket’s sparks of static
fan out into pillars of flame, I want to drag down
a bunker of salmon clouds from the glower
of city sky.  Fear lines desire
like lamb’s wool.  I watch the child’s face
surface regularly on my wife’s, and listen
for the dry, wonky chords of age in her voice.
I tug the blankets to her navel and sleep.
During a cold snap in spring, a few months
before the wedding, I saw my breath
billow on the cool window,
like the gloaming mists I saw gather
after I’d washed the day’s work from my eyes
with well water that tasted sour with limestone,
these faint strips of fog coiled around the farm.
Next morning, they would knot-up together
and rise into the two giant cumuli
under which I’d gamble through my last fearless years,
her white skin, her steady breathing.

Josh English

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