by Cameron Kelsall
Summer in the outer boroughs.
One of those days. All I wanted
was a beer and a man
waiting for me. You fit the bill.
This was a fling,
but I hadn’t caught on:
you wanted someone for a while
and gave me a try.
I was living in a building
with a backyard. We’d grab
our Rolling Rocks and lie down,
no blanket, the sun scorching unweeded grass
in the “almost too late” hour. The glass-shields
we wore prevented eye contact
as I wrapped myself around you,
lithe as a snake, telling myself
this was how closeness worked.
Having been in love more recently,
you saw it for what it was. It took
two months for me to find out.
“Sex is like drinking, only deeper,”
you said, sticking the longish neck
of the beer bottle down your throat.
And sex was our lingua franca—
the only language through which
we didn’t bother each other. Words
had come to be anything but reliable;
they were ammunition, the flowers we stepped on.
I’d wake to unemployment at noon,
pour straight vodka (Popov, cheap) into Waterford
and hope you’d want to fuck. The silence
was unbearable; the screaming served its purpose.
But I still wanted you, one month in,
still planned dates:
a loud bar on Ditmars where we could
get away without talking; the biergarten.
I wanted every bead of sweat
that dripped down your back.
I’d never been happier
about lacking central air.
The fan has to be right against
the iron side of the bed, on a folding chair.
Turn it up to high because
you love the sound. I press you
against the box, making eye contact
with your tattoo: Madre Maria,
the size of my thumb. Your past holds
religious days and confessional nights.
My violence brings the fan to the floor.
You pull yourself loose, try to slap me.
I want to fall to it and finish. If I
bite your lip, will I taste blood
or sweat? Together, will they make
Kalimotxo? With a baptismal gesture,
you reach for the bottle always kept
beneath my nightstand. You shove me
with a long, hard drink. The moon
is the face of your oblong Spanish mother.
Tonight, neither of us will sleep;
we will walk like the children of specters.
That December—the coldest I’ve known.
I never left the house without battle gear.
That morning I saw you on Astoria Boulevard,
buying shrimp at the market
where we’d seen a movie being made
on an early date. It smelled like the island
where I was born. You wore a hat, gloves,
a muffler—three layers of protective cashmere skin.
I could barely make out the man
I wanted to love. Our eyes didn’t meet.
Musical Contribution: “Evenin’ Star”
In Their Own Words:
I’ve been singing since I was five, and my primary venue has been musical theatre. I still hold out for the dream of a late-start stage career. In college, I played the role of Starbuck in a student workshop production of 110 in the Shade, a musical based on the play The Rainmaker (probably best known for its film adaptation starring Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster). Starbuck is essentially a mountebank, who promises a drought-struck county deluge in exchange for a hundred bucks. The character is all artifice and performance, until “Evenin’ Star,” in which he confesses his fears and loneliness to the barren night. I fell in love with the song, and sing it whenever I can (usually in the shower). I’m so happy I can share it with you!
Cameron Kelsall is a poet and singer. His work has appeared in Foothill: A Journal of Poetry, Drunken Boat, and On the Issues Magazine. He is currently pursuing an MA in poetry at Ohio University, where he teaches introductory and advanced writing courses.