OXIDANT | ENGINE : Issue 2
At night, my spine confesses. If I were a vulture, he says. I would not work quickly. We are up late & he is feeling cruel. His spiny limbs rake the meat of my shoulders, buzz the skinny stalk of my neck. If I were a drive, he says, I would be a long one. Busted AC & hot sun through the glass. Ohio, he says. Your gut boiling in all that empty land. My lover contorts her body so half of her is listening, the other half cloistered in dream. I don’t ask my spine for quiet. The request is too close to prayer. Each night before he & I spend our hours together, I try to think of everything I don’t want appearing in my dreams. Trampolines, hard cots in prison cells, 50 MILES TO THE NEXT REST STOP, et cetera. Tonight, I will not think of lying splayed in the middle of a highway. This is what he wants: yellow paint, the hills rolling beneath me a knuckled massage. This is what he wants. Always screaming for gravel & whiplash, some great pressure to thrust him through my chest. This is what he wants. The gist of it, I mean. If I were a fence, he says. I close my eyes & feel my lover’s halves trade places. Falling asleep is just one way to find some quiet. Dreams, a welcome chance to wake feeling free.
At night, my spine confesses. He wants to be strangled—this, again. It’s just too much to ask: for me to reach through my ribcage, grip him in my fist & clip the vertebrae like dead twigs from dead branches. You shirk contact, he says. A cowardly trait. We walk into a northern Michigan lake house & I evaluate the horizontal planes. To put it plainly, he wants me inverted. My shoulders stretched back until bone is emancipated from socket. Collapse me, he begs. Publicly. I evaluate the horizontal planes. I will forgive him, probably. He is, unquestionably, most effective when desperate. Splinter, he begs. Splinter hard. Don’t I want it? I don’t not want it. I evaluate the horizontal planes. There comes a part of every day when I must give us what he wants. My lover emerges & places her hand on my spine. Ready? she asks. My spine begins a stadium chant: You shirk con-tact, clap clap clap-clap-clap. I lower myself until my lover slips her hand & I am flat to the ground & she is towering above me. Ready? they ask. I am, I say, because it is about that time & because delusion helps dull the pain. I am & I am, I say to the crowd now gathering around me, the shape of a forest when I’m flat to the ground. Hell yeah, I am.
At night, my spine confesses. He would like to leave me. He would like to take the shape of a virile, large-chinned man & perch himself sexily along the headboard, over the shape of my sleeping lover. He would like to pull her hair behind her ear until she looks elfin & luminescent. Oh great, I say, Another fucking poem about the moonlight. On this night, I am full of suggestions. Consider the goat, I say. The goldfish. The hamster? The implication being, he would be happier if confined. In response, my spine conducts several unauthorized experiments in paralysis. Am I sexy now? he asks. How about now? I grimace & gape & grit my teeth. Suggestively, I hope. My lover stirs from the sound & my spine retreats. I try to escape as a bat, flying into the window over & over again.
At night, my spine confesses. Trust me, he says. I’ve been other candles. I think of squirrels & dogs, road kill & mid-air contortions, heavy falls on dad-shaped decks. I shift from my back to my side, my side to my back, back to my side. Pain pills float around in my stomach for a while, then get bored & dissolve. Trust me, he says. Back to my back. Tall, waving flowers. Chipping fence posts. Rebar & wire. A healthy old man, string bean & steel, shuffling three miles every morning in neon spandex & Nike Frees. The dream. Trust me, he says. It’s all in your head. He sends a jolt through my nerves to remind me what a promise can do. My lover turns, spins like she’s underwater & effortlessly wraps herself around me. I stick my fists in my mouth to stifle my applause.