Cotard in the Summertime
Naked, behind the black shrub, like how they found
your cousin from Michigan City—the one who had
that disease, where all she saw in the mirror was
her own face rotting. What to do…What to do….
when already, by the age of sixteen, a girl is convinced
she doesn’t exist? Here, we’d call that too much culture
and not enough Jesus. Drink a hot toddy and shoo the
crows away. “With my luck, I probably went to revival
with the boy who sold her the gun.” You turned from me,
took a sip of Eros, and I quietly forgot to disagree.
The black shrub is now a whale song, a lack of constellations.
I count the hours it takes you to redo each button,
the meadows of skin that lay between. Rocks cut my palms,
mark our trial with the daylight of conviction, the blight of grass.
When you reach for my lips, I know I taste an imposter.
Five states away, at dusk, your father crumbles into his porch swing.
He sips Wild Turkey and lemonade in the warm goodbye of summer.
It’s already too late when he notices the plastic flamingos are
facing the wrong way. They mostly come out at night…mostly.
But we don’t know this yet. You rise gently, your hips erased.
The sky slides between us and we tell each other that one day
we’ll grow oranges in Alaska. A wild flower bloomed, and no one
took a picture. What’s here is here almost all of the time,
like some foreign novel where the characters suffer
all the more for not suffering in English. I’ve lost track of days.
When I look up from my fever dream you’ve finished dressing.
You’re gone and the ceiling fan turns the shadows of this room
into memories of our final dance. I feel my pulse and wonder,
did you ever make it home?
previously published in Up the Staircase Quarterly
John Leonard is a professor of composition and assistant editor of Twyckenham Notes, a poetry journal based out of South Bend, Indiana. He holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University. His previous works have appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Tributaries, Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal, Up the Staircase Quarterly and Burningword Literary Journal. He was the 2016 inaugural recipient of the Wolfson Poetry Award and 2018 recipient of the Josephine K. Piercy Memorial Award. He lives in Elkhart, Indiana with his wife, three cats, and two dogs.