I am wearing my favorite ashen suit and
it is Tuesday. My tie, a precaution, sits
at the center of my chest. My shoes are
farm raised, calfskin. The weight at their
soles thins with the air. I wonder how long
it would take the cement to swallow them
whole. I arrive and stand at attention. It is
August and I work and I work and I work.
Then, I curl my brow up and out and laugh
because it is five pm. I straighten my back.
My suit—like the air—seeps against my
skin like an unpeeled rind. My lungs do not
collapse. They take in everything hidden
and hiding behind my tie and if they are lucky
they get to breathe. My suit is brilliant and I
cannot wait to get it cleaned. I am thirty-seven.
I wear my suit whenever I want and now I wear
it in front of the microwave. My father worked
three jobs to buy one. I have two. He was a
military man and it is nineteen sixty-three. The
air outside is thick and I feel dust on my tongue.
The microwave is humming like birdsongs or
highways, and I feel safe, warm even, and
seven. It was nineteen forty-nine. I was stalwart
and young and undaunted. I am secure and
now work in advertising. Then, I walked softly
outside to play Men, throwing the lot of my
infantry into paper air across the above-ground
pool. The plastic soldiers hit the pool as the rain
broke. I thought of how they’d count Mississippis,
wondering where their ripples fell, could’ve fallen.
I jumped to save them, only to look up and find
the sun sinking fast through dust and dry air
against the chlorine. It was blinding, but made
me feel safe, warm even. I knew so little then
—so little of the White man’s war or the life I’d
make or the suits I’d wear or the things I’d let
sit and live behind my teeth, taking refuge in
a place where not even light
• • •
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A.T. MCWILLIAMS is a Pushchart Prize nominated poet living in Brooklyn, N Y. His poetry has been featured in publications such as the Missouri Review, Prelude, Main Street Magazine, Nebo Literary Journal, Storyscape Journal, Blunderbuss Magazine, Juked, and elsewhere. Earlier this year, he was named a finalist in the Write Bloody book publishing contest. A. T. is also an essayist with work in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Guardian and elsewhere. You can find more of his writing at atmcwilliams.com.