Middle Ground

For one, his naiveté, the way
he astounds with his attempts
to cheer in that what’s done is done
bravado only young men
have. Too, the way he makes
the language new I’m at
a kickback (party) then I’ll hike
the arb(oretum). How he doesn’t
know yet, in my thirties I’d come
to regret the heavy blue coat
of narcissism I wore at 25,
how retrospect will cause you
to say “What an asshole” you were,
how little consideration you’d given
to those who shared your life.
How at 40, you almost let
a younger man assure you
Srsly tho try not to feel bad
about it. That’s on them.
And wasn’t that always
the problem, my predatory
heart? Loan it a bicycle
and it’d say “I’m just going
‘round the block”—but not
how you’d been hiking
down the neighbor’s shorts
all summer at his studio,
a blow-and-go when you
were grabbing something
at the store? Coming home
with cum in your stomach &
a bag of cherries in your hand.
How you’d never loved so deeply
or so poorly. How it wasn’t
cheating if he never asked—
the dance we did, but at 40 I know
that’s a lie. I’m the one who moved—
another partner, another tune, while
he sat happy in the backyard with
his sunscreen & his weed. August,
waiting for the dahlias to begin
to live into their names: Sugar
Daddy, Barber Shop, Crazy Legs,
Mazama. The best part of not believing
in myself, was the harm never seemed
real. Watch me step
out & call it radical queerness. Watch
me avoid my guilt and call it liberation.
Now watch me work my hardest, not to
be that man or the way my first lover was
with me, though I’ve come to know
his mind better 15 years since we parted
ways. The efficiency kitchen where he
taught me how to grill snapper, told
his middle-aged friend (in front of me) how
selfish I was, and she replying, “He’s twenty,
what did you expect?” What am I to make
of it, having been the boy and now
the older man? How I swore I’d never
take advantage the way I’d been
used—I’m the one who backed
away, let myself be caught by this
young man. But I’ve not become anything
like I feared myself to be. I was thinking abt
how much you have gotten me to say
emotionally. At 40, I grow dahlias in this yard,
show him how to grill a fish, and learn
to trust I am living into my name.

Jory Mickelson is the author of WILDERNESS // KINGDOM (Floating Bridge Press, 2019). His poems have appeared in print and online in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. He received an Academy of American Poets Award and holds fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation, The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and Centrum’s Port Townsend Writers’ Conference.

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