it’s monday and a sallow-bearded man with a cigar
imbedded and shivering in the hairs,
tugs down the waistband of his boxers to show me his tattoo:
me ves y sufres, look away, and neither of us does.
he sizes me up, bird bones, chickenshit and dancer’s thighs,
grunts smoke and sandalwood incense.
the arjan, naked and furrowed inside his yellow robe, crosses his legs
gestures to the man to kneel; he hisses at my fist grinding his back.
as the needle digs cursive, his lips pucker and
dog yelps are stifled in his throat.

so i tell him about childhood:
the lesbians with crewcuts and converse,
mounting each other for piggybacks to the corner store.
my eye on a dodgy ginger girl who swung
between all thighs, indiscriminately;
playground kneeslap boys whispered
that her freckles spanned her, like a pox
[but jesus, connect the dots]and how they must have whimpered while
she bobbed for [adam’s apples].

gulping, the man lifts his arm,
shows me the gow yod in the nook of his elbow,
brandishes it like gang members do;
stepping into gunfire, pants down,
grinding salt and whisky into their wounds.
smiling, i pat his back; men, what can you do.
‘more, more,’ he gasps at me,
and i dip my fingers in sesame oil and rose petals,
spread-eagle my fingers along his spine,
release a primal om, a throbbing purr.

i tell him about school, pocket-money out of
modeling for american catalogues and the covers
of taiwanese paperbacks,
and sketching tattoo designs for a brooding boy
whose basement studio was wicker chairs and a flashlight.
we knew each other intimately;
two poor, vague animals fading into
our own dark holes to suffer.
i ask the man if he’s seen cumulonimbus clouds
rise and taper like grecian columns;
he hasn’t shimmied down anemic birch trees
after picnics, i can tell.

the arjan blows on the tattoo, the black ink flecked with red;
the golden buddhas lined against the wall stare impassive.
he shuffles off his seat in paper slippers,
grunts about the ‘looky loos,’ about vietnam g.i.’s
drawing the tourist trade to laos
and throws me a dishtowel to blot the blood.
the man eyes me as i tug an oil-stained paperback from the drawer:
a catalogue of girls from isan, taut and posed, prices by demand.
‘so tell me,’ he says, and i light myself a ciggy,
lean close to trace the omlong tattoo between his eyes,
and gesture to the open magazine;
time to convalesce.

Alexandra Grigorescu

First Place
Hart House Poetry Contest