Mel Steinhaus owns all three Fifty Shades
of Gray films, and skydives,
the first dive two years after her stroke.
One Saturday night, on a love sofa
I sexted Mel. She loved to sext.
Once she sexted about when she worked
at Walmart. There shopping with her
first husband, in Employees Only
she went down on her co-worker lover,
then kissed her husband
as her lover watched from afar.
That Sunday, on campus in my office
grading papers, I got a text from Joe,
Mr. Steinhaus. Mel is in the hospital.
She wanted you to know.
She loved to sext, in a second sexting
stopped. A year later she and Joe
entered La Fiesta. I rose from the booth.
Joe and I shook hands. I’d heard about
him. Here he was, a string bean,
sallow cheeks, frayed ball cap, blonde,
blue-eyed like Mel. She limped
stiffly. I hadn’t seen her in many years.
Not the vibrant single mother
in my freshman lit class, her face
puffed, splotchy red, her body forever
unshapely, a like box.
They were in Clovis to visit her mom,
they’d driven from Nebraska.
In a recent text, she said in La Fiesta
I didn’t even kiss her. What do you want,
me to jump up and stick my tongue
in your mouth in front of your husband?
Something happened, a fucking hard on.
Half asleep, I got up and said to the mirror:
You aren’t who I thought you were,
a guy with nothing going on below his belt in his pants.
Whether limp or hard as Chinese arithmetic,
what would America care?
They’ve got their Cadillacs, their Chevy wagons,
off shore accounts, churches, temples.
In school my teacher said as we get older
physical things matter less and less. I’ve found,
at forty, they matter more and more.
America, the people I know, don’t care
about arousal and vibrators. Relationships,
courtships, mortgages, sprinklers and weed killer,
that American where I live: Ed Sullivan,
Playhouse 90, church on Sunday eternal life
through Jesus. Nothing about getting it up,
keeping it up, and don’t flaunt, don’t go
to a bar alone, and five hundred more don’ts.
But get married, have kids, be a helpmeet.
No one cares about your erogenous self
except Masters and Johnson and clinicians
no one sees because they’re tucked away,
away from the churches and malls, America
of buy and pray, consume and tithe.
Nothing stirring down there, I tell the priest, the rabbi,
the mayor of Pleasantville
where tonight, the two kids in one bed, mom
and dad are watching Gunsmoke. A badge flashes,
an outlaw draws a pistol, someone’s about to die.
Peter Mladinic has published three books of poems: Lost in Lea, Dressed for Winter, and Falling Awake in Lovington, all from the Lea County Museum Press. A fourth book, Knives on a Table, is forthcoming from Better Than Starbucks Press. He lives in Hobbs, New Mexico.