Wild Nothing

— Gavin Yuan Gao

On winter nights like this when my chest
aches for the wild nothing hiding its face

in the frost-trimmed dark, the older man
I used to love more than any real danger

must be sitting alone in the ceramic boat
of his bathtub with an empty glass in hand

in an empty glass town five state lines away,
all wined up & soap-warm. If his hands, strong

as a seagull’s neck, had once taught me how
to rein in the affection of a proud horse,

how to triumph over the headwind
on horseback as the world around me

flakes off in bright lines—they’d also taught
my body to fizzle & froth into birdsong. I want

to call him up at once & lay bare all the joy
& loss I’ve locked away between my lungs

then I remember I haven’t called in years.
Not since the night he banished me from

his house & must’ve chased out the door
afterwards, trailing the wake of my shadow

like a shark adrift in strange waters, searching
for me at the roadside café where we once hid

from a hailstorm & talked breathlessly for hours
about plans for a future we’ve both slipped off.

I imagine him leaning back against the tub
tonight, no longer regal, bruising the air

with wreaths of smoke exhaled from a mouth
creased by age, as embers fall from the dying

sun of his cigarette onto the cooling bathwater
the way all memories & laughter eventually

turn to ash, & somewhere in Idaho, the horse
we once rode has grown old, its ragged breath

warm & moist as a hothouse rose in the icy cell
of its barn stall. I listen to the telephone wires

trill like a field of cricket noise above
the battered neon sign of the all-night deli

& I burn for what’s no longer mine.


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