With his right hand we thought he was reaching for his heart, as all of us have seen Napoleon reach for whatever we believe is beneath his great coat–his heartburn, flask of Napoleon Brandy, Bible tract or grenade. We thought with his left he was reaching for his crotch--as a batter with a full count, bases loaded, bottom of the 9th, two out, in the deciding game of the World Series--reaches to adjust his cup, crosses himself (convincing us he must be Catholic) repositions his batter's helmet, reaches, readjusts cup, smudging himself self-consciously with pine tar, as twice he'd uncontrollably cum, having been French kissed by the older girl in the neighborhood, the one everyone had said was easy. We thought he was reaching for his knees, like his grandmother in that black and white of her in the sequined flapper, heel-toeing it to a Charleston across the floor of a speakeasy. Both hands raised above his head, we thought he was reaching like a bank teller in a holdup, like an umpire after a winning field goal, like the Sanctified in the New Light Pentecostal Church shouting Alleluias and Praise Gods to water-stained ceiling tiles, like a jumper in a suicidal leap off the Golden Gate--unseen, her splash, like a concrete block's, startling two lovers who rise from the grass of Bay Park and go. Prone from his hospital bed we thought he was reaching beyond its guardrails, both of his hands, fingers thrust wide, quivering with all the sanctified who'd ever praised, to grasp one more time her tired face, down-turned toward his, asking him what it was he'd said.
A Bedtime Story
A liquor cabinet is a library within whose shelves are bottled-up novels of unrequited love, a charnel house of carnal delight, a whorehouse of cobwebbed hallways, of musty rooms for a night's reading of all that is untranslatable, all that would be bilingual if only its readers read in Braille the language of love, the binding of each volume broken into bird wings, its pages turned back in a snarl, dog-eared. Renewed again and again, if fined for overdue, tender extended by the hand of the gray-haired librarian behind her dust covered desk. Thumbs find the last remembered page, say in ways that only thumbs can speak, half in a mumble as if missing every other word, Begin again here. Begin again. And a pressed butterfly, wings folded as if fallen half asleep, drunk with nectar, opens its wings, flits in full-throat as a hummingbird toward flowered wallpaper of a room a hallway beyond, alights on a bed our reader has never slept, though he has listened through parchment thin wall to its lovers in their rise and fall, fit his eye to its keyhole, turned darkness into window light as far as a street away, to a tenement in which an old woman slept upright in a chair, a blue-green wash of television screen cast across her unshaven chin and upper lip. He turns another and yet another page and a winged Pegasus, its bare-breasted rider, thunders past, her tong-slung buttocks riding the razor-arched bone of its back, her leather lariat looped in hand, galloping across the tarred rooftops, disappearing into cloud as if into fog along the Sargasso Sea, its breakers rasping sand like a saw into dry wood. Another chapter and the story lags, the liquor warms in his glass. A page or two more and a lizard--large as a crocodile, its eyes like headlights rising out of Louisiana swamp fog--opens its throat, curls its mealy tongue, and coaxes him down for a magical red carpet ride. But before the end of another (Is this the place he always stops? Has he gotten no further?) he sees through the triangle of thighs and calves of the full-breasted rider, as she rises and falls high above the winged-beast's head, the arched instep of her feet clasped fast to the pinions of its wingtips, its face that of an angel, which is to say angelic--he sees the four horsemen, thundering all thunder. But when he opens his eyes again, at his side it is only the old woman from the tenement across the street in her soiled housedress, her hand reaching to take the book from his, place its open pages face down, beside the overturned bottle and empty glass, lean her body across his, and turn his lamplight down.
Chet Corey's prose poems have appeared in Amoskeag, Backwards City Review, Chiron Review, Wopozi and other journals. Chet lives in Bloomington, Minnesota.