"Big Box Encounter"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
April 20 2010 7:01 AM

"Big Box Encounter"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear  Erika Meitner read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
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My student sends letters to me with the lights turned low. 
They feature intricate vocabulary, like soporific and ennui

Like intervening and kinetic and tumult.  He strings words together
like he's following a difficult knitting pattern. He is both more

and less striking without a shirt on.  I know this from the time
I ran into him at Wal-Mart buying tiki torches and margarita mix

and, flustered, I studied the white floor tiles, the blue plastic
shopping cart handle, while he told me something that turned

to white noise and I tried not to look at his beautiful terrible chest,
the V-shaped wings of his chiseled hip-bones.  I write him back. 

I tell him there are two horses outside my window and countless weeds. 
I tell him that the train comes by every other hour and rattles the walls. 

But how to explain my obsession with destruction?  Not self-immolation
but more of a disintegration, slow, like Alka-Seltzer in water.  Like sugar in water. 

I dissolve.  He writes enthralling.  He writes epiphany and coffee machine
He is working in an office, which might as well be outer space. 

I am in the mountains. The last time I worked in an office, he was ten. 
I was a typewriter girl. I was a maternity-leave replacement for a fancy secretary. 

I helped sell ads at TV Guide.  I was fucking a guy who lived in a curtain-free studio
above a neon BAR sign on Ludlow Street, and all night we were bathed in pot smoke

and flickering electric pink light.  Here, the sun goes down in the flame
of an orange heat-wave moon.  The train thrums and rattles the distance,

and I think of his chest with the rounded tattoo in one corner and my youth,
the hollows of his hip-bones holding hard, big-box fluorescent light.

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Erika Meitner's second book, Ideal Cities, was selected as a 2009 National Poetry Series winner and is forthcoming. She teaches at Virginia Tech.

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