MJ Fan Letter #782

 

Dear K.O.P., for the first dozen years of my life

I never looked at myself. I believed mirrors

bore no true social significance partly because

they hung on walls. Convinced, then,

in the last thin quarter of the century,

that I was a colorless American boy, without detail

perhaps I should confess my very first brush with love

involved a white girl and empty dryer box.

I smelled, if I recall, the scent of damp cardboard,

which was a scent not altogether unlike my father's

olive green Army-issue boot socks, and so it was

that as I and my little cob-webbed nymph

(as I have thought of her ever since) attempted

to make a singular glistening smile, I thought again

and again that my father was walking barefoot

nearby with a boot in each fist. I felt

the ominous pre-tingling a soldier feels

when he waits in a trench at the start of a great war

though that was not a year of war, if you recall,

but a year of myriad insignificant misdemeanors

and dumb disputes. I thought too, that the girl

had dropped down into my arms from a nest

of the July, late afternoon darkness blooming

in the upper corner of the box because her hair

danced and dangled across my brown wobbling head

like something made in the belly of a spider,

and I half wondered then when I would learn

what magic it was that gave some creatures the power

to spit a thread almost thinner than light. I decided

I'd ask my father later when I sat on his chest

full of sprawling powder-white women,

and removed his boots and then his socks,

but of course I didn't, having been struck dumb

by something (the color or length of his toes,

the tiny grid pattern the socks left on his ankles?).

It doesn't matter what, since any boy who spends

an afternoon with a girl in a box is prone to forget

his questions. I too had a bizarre über-hunger

for companionship as a boy and have gone on having it,

as I presume you have, ever since. When I pressed

my palm against the girl's back, I felt first

the impression of her skin inside the white blouse,

and then the bones of her spine

and I thought of the tiny, tiny spines

in all the animals inside and around the box

when we found it there at the edge of the park.

The stray dogs had spines shaped like my father's

belt, the squirrels and field mice had spines

shaped like the smallest limbs of the saplings;

I thought briefly of grasshopper and ant spines

before considering the spinelessness of the earth-

worms uncoiling in the mud beneath the box.

Mostly I learned what I know of myself

by holding my tongue still and I'm wondering

how it was with you? Anyone can go back

to Fayetteville, where the summers were clear

as water, and I'm assuming you too sat

at half open windows and listened to the world?

Perhaps I shouldn't say yet what it was you and I were

waiting for, Cousin, but I'll say it never arrived.

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