When I said I needed more, I meant coffee
but we were midway through “real talk”
and, logically, I might have been responding
to your desire to see less of me.
The dark film developing at the base
of my mug was taking me back to Kansas,
a clapboard bed-and-breakfast, the streets
that day or night were dead empty.
Between the two of us, we had enough
to live there for a month.
How many dime-store novels do you think
we could have read aloud to each other
in that floral-patterned room, between meals
and lying down as long as we could stand it,
wrapped up in ourselves like the damp towels
we let fall to the floor?
More than just on sleeves, the heart is worn
on wedding gowns, caps-and-gowns and backless
hospitals. It skis across hardwood floors
in dirty-soled pantyhose pulled down to the knee.
Couched in tied-together shoes, it flings itself
over a telephone wire and hangs, listening in.
There is no heart, then. There are bunny slippers,
burqas, trenches and bracelets, both slap and slave.
There is the peignoir and the tagelmust,
the steel-toe boots my father wore,
cotton smock-frocks, hand-smeared aprons, nightshirts,
loincloths and skeleton suits washed to rags
and threads like those of conversations we have
with no one in particular on trains.
Ink running low, I connected the dots
on a sheet of music. Meet me after four,
you can lay my astronomy notes
next to yours and look out for … conflict.
You can't cheat the stars, Einstein.
Tied to script, you won't dash past the curtain
and portray just brilliantly a braided loon.
You are confined to overstepping, thunder robbery
and slight adjustments that spring your viewers free
to see that you are absolutely happening
in the windows and doorways of this house.
Your backlit striptease is a hit among those
with cold-metal binoculars to their eyes.
One reclines in his chair, wolf-whistling.
Another remembers to take out the trash.
By the time scalding water touches your toe,
you have already stepped tenderly into the backs
of their minds, a debutante descending the stairs,
turning, smiling, softening and so briefly
catching the chandelier's glow in the hollow
of her cheek. When you twist the soaked sponge
above your head, she ventures a grin.
When you stand to towel off, she gasps—
having stumbled and fallen into
the thick, firm arms of a man she hadn't noticed.
She breathes a whiff of cigar smoke and fights
the urge to name each thing that feels wrong.
Justin Jannise is the author of How to Be Better by Being Worse, which won the 19th annual A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and will be published by BOA Editions, Ltd., in April 2021. A recipient of the Inprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry, Justin recently served as Editor-in-Chief of Gulf Coast. In 2019, his poems appeared in both Best New Poets and Best of the Net, and Copper Nickel nominated him for a Pushcart Prize. His writing has also appeared in the Houston Chronicle, New Ohio Review, Split Lip Magazine, and Yale Review. He lives in Houston, where he is pursuing his Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston.