Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku.


The gun was away on business and
throughout the apartment I closed the doors.
Kept the quiet in. Imitated a table
and ended the gossip of so many saucers
against little spoons. I was a coat rack

in the long hall leading off the cliff of my world.
I modeled for the day my man would
blow in. Each Sunday, when the boot of news
hit the stoop, I pinched the red belt
through the jacket’s each whispering loop,

pinched my figure—as I had the napkins
in their rings every other week—
into ready-for-the-taking poses. Pinky finger
and a clutch, a fist of gloves, shoulder-waist
isosceles like a Dutch chocolate slice:

Take me. Waiting had also promised to end me,
but daily, and starting with the innermost parts.
To keep the clock’s hands folded,
I drank from the bottles with the heaviest necks.
I slept over calls from the assorted gentlemen:

University Debt, Universal Surveillance,
the Usually Cruel Cruelties—
all of whom knew how hot the pockets
of my husband the gun. But I
was housebound and a centerpiece.

My needful plastic apple heart rattled
alone in the bowl. Blood was a good boyfriend.
He did me the cold-weather kindness.
He cuddled in the scoops of my cuticles.
Slow to evade, he let me say things

mostly to myself, such as “Rougher,”
and stiffened in the bracket of a headboard
as if this were what listening looked like.
And then ennui returned, hotter showers,
tighter sonnets on which to practice

arguments; their quick-muster dashes
dickinsoning the cream blue steam
into bite-sized compartments.
While plotting digressions, my tongue
malleted some alarm code lost to me now

on the backs of my teeth. On the old metal fillings.
—Tiny notes of copper and toxin. The gun.
That man couldn’t quit my mouth. The gun.
That man came in with his business end.
The big door let his pleasure through.

Justin Phillip Reed

Justin Phillip Reed is a South Carolina native and the author of Indecency (Coffee House Press), winner of the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry. His work has appeared in African American Review, Best American Essays, CallalooThe Kenyon ReviewObsidian, and elsewhere. Justin lives in St. Louis.