Three Views of the Human Body
At first, I thought it was the steaming
tortellini, pillows sliding on a scalding plate,
that drew beads of sweat along my friend’s
hairline, rivulets etched from his temples.
Brian patted his face with a napkin’s
stiff corner, snapped it open,
explaining, This is better than waking,
sheets drenched. Food often breaks
the fever—as if the body, weakened
by TB, thrush, and other assailants,
is hungry for sustenance, mistakes it
for salvation, and celebrates with a surge
of salty cleansing.
Because he is dying, we let Brian
cheat at croquet. The grooved wooden
balls, stately as grapefruit, lumber
across the lawn, clack against
each other and brush through wire wickets.
Brian sends his ball hopping into gravel,
nudges it with his foot, and we squint
beyond him into blazing sun, as if fascinated
with the fir tree’s great maternal nod.
He nudges his ball again, amused
at our leniency, smug as a child with indulgent
parents, though we feel more like parents
who do too little, whose child is crouched
on the lip of an abyss and cannot be called back.
Brian swings his mallet, wind whipping
his slacks, which cling to whittled shins,
the stark blade of thigh. We guess
at the breeze’s velocity, comment
on the garden’s winsome white bells,
the exquisite fluency of birds.
Trading stubs of pastel chalk,
we draw hearts with names inside,
pavement blooming, two-thousand queers
gathered for a rollicking mega-wedding.
Shoulders back, stomachs flattened
by lavender cummerbunds, celebrants strut
in milky tuxedos, twirl in frosty
gowns. One man is slumped in a wheelchair,
his groom kneeling beside him, adjusting
their daisy wreaths, their faces beatific,
taking the full force of the sun.
After the speakers, the vows, the man
in the wheelchair turns to roll away,
chrome wheels flashing, legs withered
not by wasting—the kind the virus
brings—but some other disease, perhaps
one that leaves longevity intact.
Look, he’s handicapped, I whisper
to my lover, and we beam at each other,
as if this were glorious news.
Ontario Review and Bonanza