and there’s the one whose wife
can’t stand you, and there’s
the one whose wife can’t stand
your wife, and the one whose wife
your wife can’t stand, and the one
whose wife you can’t stand, no,
be honest—you hate that bitch.
Can you see the pattern here?
Is it coincidence that feond (fiend)
and freond (friend), both masculine
agent nouns, were often paired
alliteratively in Old English? Is it
for this that the drinking horns
of Heorot must stand mead-less and
the grease-slicked flesh of feasters
in the firelight unilluminated go?
How many best men bested, how
many best-laid plans shoved down
the gangway aft of a sinking
friendship because you
got it wrong, because your tongue
slipped or you glanced, too intently
or too long, trying to decipher
a diphthong? You lack ambition
for apologia, and surely
your pride has played some part.
But why laden your heart
with rue over what you can’t undo?
You can’t demand the past
to stand and unfold itself.
It wants to conceal. Maybe
you shouldn’t have asked her
to warn you when her bubble
of maternal rage was about to burst.
Perhaps he made one too many
references to the time when
you tried to stanch the blood
of flowers with a scepter and
that zebra bit your emu on the ass.
Maybe you should not have hinted
as to the origin of the sky-shaped
scar on someone’s thigh. All you
can recall is the ache in your back
from lugging time, like a drunken
father, home from a bar
in flames. Bonds compel you
to bare your teeth, but take care
not to gnash as your buddy’s wife
details each die roll of her latest
bunco party. And don’t glare as
your wife stares into the maelstrom
of her merlot, while your buddy
waves a hot wing to punctuate
the punchline of his latest off-
color joke. The evening is nearly
over. We need, such gatherings,
at least three times a year,
to be reminded of where
our loyalties lie. And that we are
dying, far more slowly, than our dogs.
Joshua McKinney’s most recent book of poetry is Small Sillion (Parlor Press, 2019). His work has appeared in such journals as Boulevard, Denver Quarterly, Kenyon Review, New American Writing, and many others. He is the recipient of The Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize, The Dickinson Prize, The Pavement Saw Chapbook Prize, and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing. He teaches literature and creative writing at California State University, Sacramento. His hobbies include wrangling two pet guinea pigs and playing the banjo. An amateur lichenologist, he is a member of the California Lichen Society.