March 25, 2022

by Luke Wortley



There’s the sleeping baby and there’s the table. There’s the glass vase and there’s the cut cantaloupe sitting on ice. There’s the open wound and the ordinary last name. There’s a tabular reasoning and there’s a gleaming stream winding its way down the mountainside. There’s the circular version of events that he keeps trying to explain to his partner and there’s the sour smelling tobacco stain on the pillow. There’s a bottle of bourbon on his lips and there’s a search for validity. There’s two on one and there’s one searching for two. There’s a way to go about this and there’s a shelf of nautical tchotchkes collecting dust. There’s a set of legal papers to make it all official and there’s a magical hole opening up in someone’s chest, ready for filling with who knows what. There’s an abandoned oil rig some hundreds of miles away from here and there’s the slow build of anxiety strumming the throat. There’s the sirloin steak sizzling on the grill and there’s the unloaded rifle hanging on the wall. There’s the email notification on the phone and there’s the cardboard box unopened in the attic. There’s a right thing to say and there’s a confession.



When you touch the edge of night and leave the dreamscape in tatters on the kitchen floor. When you leave the inkling of fire, the outline of the sun. When you clamber up through the desire and scream out for even more. When you sink your elongated teeth and claws and horns into the flesh of another and tear, only to realize that the skin ripping and the blood soaking is your own. When you calculate the exact amount of damage you can take before the next run through. When things go off the rails for only a moment, and then you take the next drink. When you step into the wind of words and apologies. When you slide out of your own throat wet and humble. When you roll around in the fescue with your tongue pressed against the back of your teeth. When lichen blooms on your chest as the memories you’d rather not share come out wreathed in flame. When all the times you forgot turned into one long remembrance. When you stood at the foot of the bed and watched your partner sleep, the sheets slathered in moonlight like creek rock. When you just can’t anymore. When friction is the norm. When the curvature of time bends around your stomach as you stare in the mirror, disgusted. When you are driving in the rain. When you try to sleep but for the constant ringing of bones, the buzzing of kaleidoscopic tenderness and bitterness and something like pity writhing. When you grow old and cantankerous. When you suddenly remember that it’s all too late, now.



Beginning with the self seems to contradict the point of this poem, and yet here comes the insipid I that won’t quit shoving itself into my mouth, down my throat, into my chest cavity where it whirs into a golden, spinning orb. The I that is and the nothing that can ever follow it without sounding too grandiose or conventional or bifurcated. It is trite beyond reckoning, and yet here it is again, rolling off my tongue into the cold winter air, lingering on the hot breath. The I that fills the holes I long to open up inside me, that lines the walls of my kitchen and burrows between the sheets. I can’t get rid of this I that doesn’t know which me it wants to be that day, depending on what dosage the I can handle or wants to tolerate. And there’s always at least two versions of I, one invading the page and the other in the mind of some holy other contemplating the you of who the I might become if it can ever get over itself.



Luke Wortley is a writer living in Indianapolis, Indiana. His fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in monkeybicycle, Hobart, Best Microfictions, Pithead Chapel, The Florida Review, Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter (@LukeWortley) or visit https://www.lukewortley.com/