I wish you were here, so I ask for two glasses to go with the bottle of wine and set the spare in the grass beside me. Later, I will pretend I got stood up, but who am I kidding? I bought the whole bottle for myself because they don’t sell it by the glass here in this quaint backyard garden behind the florist’s where I know no one and feel awkward as hell.
I wish you were here, but you say you hate poetry. By which you mean you love it so much that every poem you write falls short of your unattainable ideal.
I wish you were here because this awkwardness is a fog settling on everything so thick that I can’t tell where it’s coming from. Is it coming off me like heat waves like sex fug like fear? Or maybe it’s a collective transpiration, a greenhouse effect of socially anxious people breathing in beauty and breathing out adrenaline-scented halitosis.
Either way, I wish you were here because it’s a beautiful June evening and the sky is lilac and coral and I am dressed nice but not too nice with my hair pinned and my shirtsleeves rolled up like a rumpled intellectual and the whole effect is wasted on these people with their ironically awful haircuts and ill-fitting mom jeans. With their pristine work boots and canvas tote bags.
I know you love it when I’m petty.
I wish you were here because this poetry is bad. Bad as in read off an iPhone. Bad as in delivered in a monotone. Bad as in this person witnessed something beautiful and decided to stab it in the heart and pin it into a poem. Bad as in each poem is followed by saying “that’s it” and I’m sorry but ending a reading like that is like asking me if I came. A climax should be obvious and ringing in your bones. If it isn’t, you need more practice. Just not on me.
I make sure I sip my wine carefully, not rattling the ice cubes, because more than once now someone has looked at me for doing so and I tilt my head back to watch the swifts twitter and wheel. Do you remember climbing to that rooftop downtown to watch the swifts spiral homeward to their roosts while the juice from bloody rare burgers dripped down our chins, back before we ever hurt each other? I watch a crow couple hop from branch to branch in a mulberry tree over the poets’ heads. They swipe their glossy beaks on the tree’s bark, ruffle out their oil slick necks and preen, and I pray for the poems to get better. They don’t.
When I walk back to my truck during intermission there it is in the mulch—an explosion of bottle blue. Blue jay feathers like shards of fallen sky, a whole handful of them, scattered from a fight or a brush with death’s silent paws.
I pick them up and zip back together their barbules, stroking and stroking the black and blue bars, these bold things. I am bent over a flowerbed, whispering and fervent. Blessed be the corvidae for they give no fucks. Blessed be the ravens rooks magpies jackdaws jays treepies choughs and nutcrackers. The bold as brass badasses. Blessed be the raucous and the raconteurs.
And then the final poet is up, the one I came to see, and she is all tattoos and red-maned swagger. She is reading, breathlessly, about queer sex. Fingers begin to tighten around kombucha bottles and Birkenstocked toes start squirming in the clover. The fog thickens and I am baring my teeth in a snarl of joy at her chanted I know, baby and her bend me like a… like a… like a…
I wish you were here because I can feel something flicker in a long-dead place and it doesn’t scare me and I don’t think you’ll ever get to see me be this brave because it only happens when I’m alone. I wish you were here because this messy poetry feels as true as a tipsy fuck, and it might meet your unattainable ideal even if I never will. The poet’s voice rises and I can feel the quills pierce my palm where I’m gripping them so tight I draw my own blood and then it’s over and I am clapping too loudly, my bones ringing like a bell, and I can feel eyes pivot onto me and away. The redhaired poet replaces the mic, all swagger spent. The crowd rises and mills. I cork my bottle and mouth “they couldn’t make it” at the girl who sold it to me as I see myself out, flushed and swinging my fistful of blue.
“Fistful of Blue” won the CNF competition of A SmokeLong Summer 23.