John Estes

Clean me

I love to watch these bodies, how lovely and shapely

they are, as if, as Cavafy put it—Eros had fashioned them out of

his perfect experience—and in a small town in the middle

of Missouri no less, nothing to speak of

yet here they are, fashionably draped and going

about their business as if it were Paris or New York,

their lives full and meaningful without boredom, want or iniquity.

I stare at them, as if doing so would extract from them

an urgent gift they can not openly offer.

But this is no solution: too much distance lies

between the knife of appreciation and the fork of possession.

As if the mere act of shaping an appearance,

out of chaste fabric and otherwise incoherent dust,

could salvage what we’d never save.

As if it qualifies us for, makes us worthy of, affection.

We no longer believe in child gods—and really why should we?—

yet up and down the street, parked cars mock us

with these letters, traced in filth, crying out for action.

John Estes lives with his family in Canton, Ohio, where he directs the creative writing program at Malone University. Recent poems have appeared in Tin House, New Orleans Review, Southern Review, Iron Horse, and AGNI, and he is the author of Kingdom Come (C&R Press, 2011) and two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve (Poetry Society of America, 2009), which won a National Chapbook Fellowship.

“When I think about the front porches in my life, most of them are associated with women I’ve loved. Here is one, a site of initiation, with a girl sticking her tongue down my throat; here is one, in Ohio, holding a sight for insecure eyes as I roll into town for a visit; here—wait, that’s a balcony—; here is a much-regretted break-up scene (can we move along?); here is one, a stoop really, that frames a crying mother and child as I drive away; and here, archetype of them all, my grandmother’s, the chains of a chipping mint-green swing creaking its slow creak outside a silent house.”


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