Three Poems by Nick Wort

sc june 18

Notes from a Birthday Party #2

There is a diner in southern Michigan that lists
spaghetti as an “ethnic offering”
we are at that diner, 2:03 AM
and it is your birthday, we are drunk
and you are sitting beside me, drinking milk

I know that the lactose inside of
that milk will upset your stomach,
sugary shoelace knots of
carbon and hydrogen and oxygen
will run — undigested — through your
intestinal track, like Carl Lewis in 1984

I am trying to eat French fries (which
are not an “ethnic offering”) but

it is hard to focus on eating because
your friend (my friend too)
is beside us and talking about her biscuits
and gravy having too much sausage
and her friend (your friend too)
is beside her having a panic attack

it is hard to focus on eating
because I dumped too much ketchup
on my impressively crinkled fries

it is hard to focus on eating
because the inside of my brain is
a fog machine of Prozac and Tecaté

it is hard to focus on eating
because all of my jokes are stupid
but you’re drunk and laughing anyway

and eventually, I guess that we have to leave,
and eventually, someone pays
(I did not pay)

and we stumble to the back seat of a
silver Ford Taurus with automatic
locks and windows
(and heated seats)

and you look at me and mumble, and it
sounds like you’re speaking
in tongues, and you put your head
on my shoulder for exactly 5.8 seconds
then turn away

your breath smells like
a garden of Marlboro Reds
(the short ones, the 83s)

Chicago (January 2017)

The checkerboard tile was covered in a patina of nicotine yellow and mud from the soles of dirty Doc Martens.
And I am watching you sway to some 2000s R&B hit with questionable lyrics sung by a man with a questionable
lifestyle, as the smell of mids wafts in from an alley out back, in through a graffitied door slightly ajar, I wonder if you
even notice. Your hands and your feet move to the beat, but never quite the way they should — instead you are
the second hand of a clock: mechanical and precise, expected but stiff. Sometimes when you twitch just right
you move a little too fast, a bit out of time, and the beer in your glass leaps up above the rim — a little amber tsunami
dripping down to your fingers. It’s astonishing, but you don’t notice, and you leap back in just a second too late.

Grenoble

568 years ago in what is now Peru,
an ancient civilization sacrificed
140 children and 200 llamas to the
moon, according to National Geographic.

I feel bad for the llamas.

Before the sacrifice, the children’s
hearts were ripped out en rituel,
and before that, red char was
rubbed into their crying little faces,
like black streaks below a
linebacker’s eyes.

What does a human heart smell like
anyway? Red wine? Licorice? The
hair of a former lover? The smell
that still sticks to your pillow, even
after you started smoking again
just to get rid of it, because
you’re dramatic and young and
stupid despite your balding head
and the degree covered in dust
above your window?

Maybe they smell like chartreuse.

A scent known only to bougie
alcoholics and Charthusian monks
in the snow soaked mountains of
France. Monks who have taken a
vow of silence to protect their bitter
green liquor.
(Great with a mint garnish!)

I wonder if any of them deserved it?

Certainly one among the 140 was a
little shit. Wouldn’t clean its room,
take out the trash, deserved to be
strewn to bits and shoveled into a
sacrificial pit to appease an astral body.

But those llamas.

Nick Wort is a grad student at IU South Bend, and the winner of the 2017 Wolfson Poetry Prize. Follow him on Twitter: @dollartreevegan

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