A second touch can mean anything
but coincidence, and this has to be
the fourth time she’s run
her hand up my forearm and asked about the girlfriends
I don’t have. She asked how
that could be and reminded me
of how she used to be curious
about black boys in school. Something
about contrast. Pretzels and chocolate.
Salty and sweet. She’s moved on
to asking about the boys
I might be hiding somewhere. I might
have denied it three or four times before she admitted
that she was just teasing because she loved
the way my mouth shaped the word “no.” I’m shaking
my head, but I’m not moving
her hand away from my forearm. I’m still
here dodging the glint in her eyes because I want to
know how much she’s willing to give up
to have me knock on the door
of her blood slick fantasy. I’m pretending
I don’t hear her husband behind us
asking the same questions to a group of girls giggling
nervously into their cups.
I’m pretending this night hasn’t ended
before with my body hollowed out and hung
as tribute to Honor or Boredom or All
Deliberate Speed. It’s too much
of a mystery now. I want to know how much
she’s willing to pay for a body
I planned on giving away
to the earth two months ago.
I’m waiting for a number
on the bottom of a napkin. I’m waiting to be offended
because I want to imagine
myself next to all the other flesh of my family
who’ve been bought in this state.
A valuable servant still has value,
and I won’t ruin my family name by leaving with her
before I know that she knows that I came
from good stock. Good enough for the richest
man in Montgomery to hide a child in us.
Good enough for the governor
to give a speech at my father’s retirement.
Good enough to be a dream
neither one of us can afford.
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH