Poetry — April 2, 2017 12:03 — 1 Comment

Five Poems – Derek Graf


Drive, he said, pushing
his dry fingers inside me,

if anyone asks
we went for a drive.

My uncle ashes
his cigarette

on a dinner plate,
pulls his wallet out

of last night’s jeans.
Every day I tell myself

I will not become him.
Drive, he said, throwing

my blood-stained shorts
in the trash, if anyone asks

we went for a drive.




I remember the row
of dolls’ heads lined up

on a shelf above a radio
he played the whole time.

I close my eyes, remember
this in a dream, maybe,

or waking confusion—
what difference does it make?

I wonder if anyone looked
for me those hours after school

my uncle had me pinned against
the couch, naked and named.

Years later, I take a hammer
to the dolls’ heads, the radio.

Children run down narrow
flights of stairs, a street

magician floats his silver
globe through plastic hoops.

I remember the long drive
to the hospital the night

I couldn’t stop bleeding,
the confusion of dreams

and the memories within them.
What I longed for was taken

from me, divided into fear.




I have to inhabit three bodies
at once to understand the man

who pulled the child into his
room. I remember every word

he said and still I’m a substitute
in all but the worst memories.

These books say the lover
in me will find a safe bed

in a room with my new body.
I would vomit this spoil

and cowardice out of me
in answer to no one. I would.

But the story is always so familiar:
we all have someone we need to see

when an alternative kind of life
is imperative. I remember his small,

crooked teeth, tan-lines on his chest,
and the sore days after. Nothing

to worry about, he said—everyone
knows you’re in a safe place.






A gym towel heavy
with another man’s sweat.

If I had a body without
such local history, without

countless identical examples:
my tongue swells with the sound

of his name, and the day hangs
from the coat-hook. Ignore it,

I tell myself. Ignore the locust trees
and the burn-pit in your mouth:

remember his hands on your chest,
his tongue in your ear, his name

waxing down your spine.
Translated from the Latin,

texting strangers all weekend,
in America we carry shame

around without shame.
Translated from the English,

is it wrong that I lack belief
in what’s left of my body?




In another drunk text Ryan
promised to slit his wrists

and leave his body
on the bathroom floor.

He wanted me to find him
like that, an act he rehearsed

nightly. Standing outside
his apartment for an hour

with no answer, I almost
wanted to believe him.

All those nights he looked
for someone to walk him home

after last call, after the vodka
tonics, forty dollar tabs, falling

asleep in some torn leather
booth, the nights he wouldn’t

wake up no matter how hard
I pushed him, the hospital

lobbies I waited in until dawn.
All those nights I refused

to leave with him—I can’t
say who was more afraid

of the other. Did I want him
to ask me inside just to see

if he could get it up?
Was he afraid he’d mistake

my body and mouth
for someone else? He would

stumble away, almost falling
against the jukebox, pushing

aside everyone in his way—
when he’d show up

hours later, too drunk
to know why I’m there,

begging for another,
I’d drive him back

to my place where all
we’d ever do, no matter

what I hoped, was sleep.


Derek's poems have been published in Portland Review, Word Riot, and Booth. He lives in Lawrence, KS.

One Comment

  1. Charity says:

    Devastating. Beautiful. Thank you.

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What am I?

Bioluminescent eye
That sees by the shine
Of its own light. Lies

Blind me. I am the seventh human sense
And my stepchild,

Scientists can't find me.

Januswise I make us men;
Was my image then—

Remind me:

The awful fall up off all fours
From the forest
To the hours…

Tick, Tock: Divine me.

-- Richard Kenney