by Gregory Emilio
after Andrew Hudgins
I can’t believe you danced with HIM!
one man shouts at another as they stagger
out of the Atlanta Eagle and quarrel
in front of my apartment. I smoke
in the shadows, snooping behind a hedge.
A roach lumbers along a stone wall.
Cicadas click viciously. August,
the city thrums in a thick mug of sweat.
I pray that the lovers can work it out,
go back to grinding in the neon glow.
Inside, my ribeye’s roiling in a bath
of butter, blistered garlic, crackling
rosemary, so I leave the lovers
onstage to harangue the night away.
In Old English, hunger means desire
with longing. So of course, I’m thinking
of a woman who I never thought would
leave, who, of course, did. Once I awoke to
a roach drowning in the coupe glass she left
on the sill, the insect flailing in boozy,
life-ending ecstasy. Outside, the couple
gnashes their teeth, a choked I fucking
love you! cracking the insect fever pitch.
Too impatient to let it rest, I slice
into the steak, the blood seeps onto
the plate, and I wonder about the ways
we’re hardwired for pleasure, how the body
rewards us for outpacing death, the chiasmus
of food and sex. This woman, this woman—
but what’s the use telling you her eyes
had the hard glint of polished obsidian.
That I was the first man to cook a steak
for her. That she’d mouth a silent prayer
over her food like it was God-given.
Now framed by the kitchen window,
the lovers will not, will not stop breaking
up, wringing out their love, overacting
what might be the most important moment
of their lives. Grace, we say, because life
is full of undeserved hunger. The roaches
are out tonight, prowling for crumbs, cracks,
for the sugar in our cocktails. But why bother
telling you? The meat’s getting cold.
Gregory Emilio is a Southern California native whose poetry and essays have appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Miramar, Permafrost, Pleiades, Spillway, and World Literature Today. Recently, he was first runner up in Spoon River Poetry Review’s 2017 Editor’s Prize, and in 2015 won the Pangaea Prize from The Poet’s Billow. He’s the nonfiction editor at New South, and a PhD candidate in English at Georgia State University.