Poetry: “The Beautiful Ex, Who Was Once on TV” by Kyle Kineman

I still smell the sweat of machines
on your chest, the grease of your night-shift
palm, you were always oil on canvas,
a James Dean in altar boy blues. I know
I’ve looked at you too many times lately
in the photos you’ve posted. You look good—
your wet white shirt outlining every church boy
bulge as you emerge from some Malibu paradise,
some comped vacay getaway, someone wanting
a third rate star with a country crooner’s voice
and a body to kill for. I want you to know
I’ve read as much Jeff Lemire as I could get
my hands on since we were together, learned
there will always be that boy and his obnoxious
fucking eyes on a bus in every small Podunk
infested with hills and two lane roads. And those boys
with those eyes will always bloom when
the explosive utterance of fag leaves their mouths;
the same who will clamor to dry hump a dirty football
in their closets when their parents
go out to dinner or a function, the same boys
who panic at the scratch of the rusty garage door
as the parents return to observe their children,
hiding their shame, full of light and hope
for the family name as if they are their saints
of virginity, a baptism by vulcanized rubber,
the same boys who will work at car dealerships
or sell boats to landlocked people in the town
they grew up in. This is how I keep myself
alive, if you haven’t noticed: an unhealthy dose
of humor and sadness. I feel so attractive.

But there’s something else I’d like
to tell you: I don’t recognize the world
we met in anymore. There was a time
when we worked in secrecy and we kind
of liked it. All the calls at 1 a.m. Are you busy?
I never was. But now I doubt you’d know
my face if I crossed your path, or my name,
or the way my stomach always recoils
to the touch as if by reflex, as if I was conditioned
by my skin or Baptist fire and you,
by Catholic guilt, as the last article
of clothing departed the material plane
of the college bedroom. But here I am now
with a student who tells me they’ll be absent
on Monday. Their mother might be deported,
she says she’s sorry and I tell her no worries,
like that covers anything. My mother
wouldn’t like any of the things I’ve done,
I think, but she’s dead now so there’s
one less say on the matter.

Why am I up at midnight remembering
you? Why does some much hinge on your
inhumanly white teeth, abs for days,
your country swoon? I used to think
you were the dumbest man alive, but
I know now that we aren’t that different
to the boys on the bus who become
boys ruling the world. I wish more than ever
that I was an android and cared nothing
for the politics of your body or mine,
of what’s inserted where, straight men
are obsessed with us, it’s all so tiring.

Maybe this is where history and protest
come together, in the memory of you
slipping through the door, the comingling
of spit can be a salve for our desperate guts
these days. Or maybe there’s no point
at all, maybe we delude ourselves into
believing we’re revolutionary in our subtle
Kentucky boy ways. I’m not calling on you
for love; that time is over. I just want to hold
you. And I want you to hold me back.
I feel as if we’re on the precipice of drowning,
do you feel them in those swimming pools
as I do? Do you know they’re coming for you?
Don’t be throttled by the boys on the bus.

 

 

***

Kyle Kineman‘s work has previously appeared in Arcadia Magazine, Banango Street, and Apeiron Review. He is currently an MFA candidate at Florida State University, where he teaches writing through comics studies.

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