Words by Rob Franklin
Summer had gone and smiled itself into a yellow-toothed haze.
Fat-lipped and dumb, another humid day dripped like syrup from your index finger, and when the lake boiled over, it frothed pollen through dirt.
I wanted to lap it up.
Five boys with history,
Five boys who knew one another in braces now spoke of sex as experts,
Tucked marlboros into penniless pockets in corner stores, drank the beer our fathers wouldn’t, jumped
from boathouses naked howling fucks into dusk.
Another day curdled and left the foulest taste on your tongue.
The drunken, bounding bodies clambered onto the deck inside of midnight’s soggy jowl; they fell into bunk beds and sleeping bags exhausted.
At your side, in your hum,
your thorns burrowed into me and wreaked havoc. They gutted me like a perch.
I hoped that we could stay there, asphyxiated in our dirt
you carving red tunnels through my insides like secret passageways that left me coughing blood. I hoped that you would keep burrowing, that I was a bottomless pit
where boys bury boxes and then forget.
In the morning, I would tell everyone I was too tired to swim.
I would lay in bed for hours with everything you’d left: the flecks of your skin, the chestnut of your hair, the honey of your musk—
I feared your body, what lay beneath your skin.
Perhaps that’s impolite to say, but —
I’d learned to fear you, learned to think your blood was poison, Could blister, and tear, and leave me in a hospital bed
one good kiss away from death.
Sex for us, of course, had always been a kind of violence.
We learned to love in rooms that smelled of Clorox,
In pickup trucks, in parking lots lit only by the stale glow of open all night signs Places more suited for none-left-standing shootouts than romance.
But on that, you were intent.
You were intent on lit candles and soft limbs,
On music crooning from the radio and the tide of smoke between our lips. Perhaps you were trying to say that if we must die, let us do it slowly
you can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me, there’ll never be a nigger in SAE - Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, University of Oklahoma
His face swells by the eighteenth, and there are still six to go daylight wasting, we fork our dinner, chewy beef
drowned in its own juice – the crack of aluminum,
chorus to another day in the lurid blush of California
we grin at the casualties on our lawn, at the
slurred words lilting through the space between us, at the blotches ripening on his neck, his cheeks,
his lips. There are still five to go
when we joke he’s had enough Budweiser-
soaked breath as American as apple pie.
He smiles. Looks like I have
On the bus,
what begins as a hum
that has lived in a boy’s gums far too long
starts to catch, flame uncoiling in a fallow field,
and spread until each body becomes consumed in its fervor shaking and writhing in red-cupped ecstasy.
Soon mouths begin to froth around their laughter
they can barely keep their teeth from unhinging
as they beat their mantra, one they’ve learned
from years imagining their blood runs blue
through the veins of America, and they speed out of Norman, their chant still making the leaves on the hackberries dance —