Kevin West


                                          Jeanne Bessette

                                        Jeanne Bessette

POLISH

 

I wasn’t afraid to strut down the hallway in white pumps 

retrieved from the back of the closet or wear pearls snagged 

off the vanity mirror and draped around my neck. 

In my mother’s house, I was free to experiment 

 

with women’s clothing. Instead of spending my Saturday

mornings in front of the television, watching cartoons,

or caught up in a war my brother invented for his plastic

Army Men, I’d rifle through my mother’s makeup, dip fingers

 

into blush palettes, apply Estee Lauder Beautiful perfume 

to my collar. She shouldn’t have been surprised when, at fifteen, 

I changed my physical appearance—let my hair grow

to my shoulders, traded T-shirts with athletic logos 

 

for ones depicting the open mouth 

and red lips of Marilyn Manson. I turned myself into 

an exhibition. She should have known that at my first chance 

to escape, on a field trip to Quebec, I’d let the girl sitting 

 

in front of me on the bus paint my nails with Black Onyx polish, 

let her make me more glam than goth. My mother should have 

known the way liberation feels the same 

as orgasm, how each nail would coruscate like a collection

 

of black holes ready to devour the attention of boys 

in my French class, who pointed and called me a freak 

for the rest of the trip. She should have known that I’d attempt

to hide my makeover, that I’d ball my fists as I tried to leave

 

for school, how hot tears would flow when she barred 

my path, sat me down at the kitchen table, forced me to scrub 

furiously with remover before leading me to the sink, telling me 

no son of hers would dare go out in public like that. 

 

My mother knew I’d get the message, stop prancing around 

the house, adopt a masculine swagger, follow in my brother’s 

footsteps, and ask out a girl. She knew I’d keep my secrets 

to myself—I haven’t worn nail polish since. 


 

EQUATION FOR MODERN LOVE 

 

Whenever I’m single, I nose-dive backwards

            into that old familiar territory of dating apps filled with men 

                          who want to do anything but talk, the ones who only want to fill 

each orifice with pulsating fingers, appendages 

 

                        of desire and searing light that try to rip through muscle, 

              punch a tunnel through organ, make a new mouth at the base of my throat,

                                         and leave me crumpled on a bedspread. Whenever I’m single,

 

a man in my family dies, and all I can say is it’s correlative. I wish it wasn’t true, 

                             but I know the universe is just another male who wants to hurt me

                             —more mathematician than ephemeral body—and I am just an instrument:

                                          a chalkboard with an equation on it that he is working out     slowly.

 

Because they always die whenever I talk to someone new—

             nothing salacious, not even dick pics, just a simple How are you?—

                        I know there is a limit to the number of men I am allowed

             to love, that I’m being told indirectly, or maybe much more directly that I don’t value 

 

                       the ones I already have that I barely speak to—that each message I send 

is a knife, a dagger, the first hint of cancer, an accumulation of liquid inside a lung, 

              is a needle prodding mutated cells repeatedly until they rupture

 

             and I have another funeral to attend. Or maybe this is just the cosmos telling me 

                                                     to be careful because I’m delicate

                                                                    and I only have so much of myself 

                                                                                                                        left to give.  

 


Kevin West received his MFA from Virginia Tech in May 2018 and will begin his PhD at the University of North Texas this fall. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Qu, Tampa Review, Sierra Nevada Review, Sycamore Review, and elsewhere.