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Kate Daniels

Kate Daniels

Kate Daniels teaches in the M.F.A. program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Her fourth book of poetry, A Walk in Victoria's Secret, is forthcoming from LSU Press.


His last name is lost now, misfiled
In the archives of my personal history ñ
But I've never forgotten him,
That cute, black, pre-med sophomore
From Lafayette, Louisiana, who wore
Aviator glasses and tattered khakis,
So intent on becoming a surgeon
His roommates called him Doc.
I remember he lived on the ground
Floor of a garden apartment with sliding
Doors and vertical blinds that one of us
Must have locked and twirled shut
To ensure our privacy. Grilled t-bones
Decorated our plates, and while we cut and chewed,
I regaled him with an anecdote of poor Ted Roethke,
So psychotic in his mania, he believed
He was a lion. "Bring me a steak,"
He said to the waiter. "Don't cook it. Just
Bring it." And for some reason, both of us
Laughed. Then I quoted the phrase I had always loved,
"Suddenly I knew how to enter the life of everything around me."

In the silence after that, the end of the evening
Approached quickly. I could taste the beef grease
On my lips, and feel its heaviness in my gut.
The hot, arousing smell of cooked flesh
Filled the air between us. And before I realized it,
Doc was leaning toward me, his eyes limpid
Behind the huge lenses of his glasses,
His mouth relaxed, his hands soft.
I could find nothing in his face
To frighten me, and something old
Inside was punctured and started to empty,
Draining itself like a boil, or a chancre.  
And though that felt like a healing, poison
Still poured out dampening the space
where Doc and I now stood, close enough
To smell each other...
No one who could possibly care
Knew we were there, alone, reverberating
Inside the prison house of history,
Longing to touch each other
Free from context. One kiss
Would transform me to the n***r-lover
My old friends determined I'd become.
And Doc would be pilloried beside me
For impersonating the race-traitor
A black man loving a white girl
Was called back then...
All it would take to free ourselves
From the old narratives and continuous
Loop reruns of our national nightmare
Was six more inches and a slight elevation
Of my quivering chin. The lower halves
Of our bodies were already touching,
And Doc's arms looped loosely, encompassing
My ass. But when I touched him,
When I raised my hands and fit them
On the smooth brown bulges
Of his muscled biceps, the automatic ignition
Of cultural reproduction switched on,
And the feeling that filled me then
Was something like a rush of wings
Unfurling and souring the room
With a musty odor...  For a few hours,
Doc and I had cleared the air
Of racial difference and met
Each other in a rare element, debrided
Of color.  Now, as our bodies clamored
For the culmination, clouds of old history
Reverse-fumigated the room, and something
As ominous and unambiguously black
As Poe's raven, croaking its warning,
Nevermore, infected the room. Thus,
I tensed and flexed before I turned my cheek
To make a landing pad for the silken slide
Of Doc's sweet lips on my schoolgirl's skin.
And then, without looking again
Into his beautiful eyes, I picked up
The cage I had brought, and turned to go.  
I fitted the quilted cover down over the silver bars
And listened to that darkness quiet
Instantaneously the creature that lived
Then I bore it away with me, swinging
In my hands, and walked home alone,             
through the darkened, shuttered streets.


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