“To Stop a Dinner Guest” by Josiah Bancroft

Josiah Bancroft

TO STOP A DINNER GUEST

My friend, a yawn is a kabuki gasp, a conspicuous parody
of breath, meant to entertain, yes, and refresh the body’s

interest in carrying on. A yawn
is savored, is hooked in the chest,
then extracted; it is inedible,
immense and stubborn.

You cannot tell us again of the desert-scalded town,
the pie crust earth, puckered all about, how you wandered in,

a cartoon of a coyote, stalking a soft touch.
Spare us the blow by blow report
of your sniffing out the Christian bookstore
and the beautiful-from-behind blonde.

Skip the pastel Christ paraphernalia, skip the children
with heads like watermelons, the weepy-eyed Jesus,

pouring out his white robes,
as if a Pacific wave was tackling him
from behind, pass over the Bibles
in their little biblical suitcases,

shelved in order of colored leather, yellow down
to indigo, and how you needed a ticket home.

After hiking for weeks
through canyons, slotted like baleen,
painted and shingling, you hoped
to talk bus fare out of the beautiful-

behinded woman. We know her ass was smiling, know
you were prepared to convert; the desert prepared you

for conversion, showing you
how to bear roads, endure homes
and lawns dropped like toupees
on that vast pate of sand, prepared you

to take little, but to persist in taking, overwhelming
an atom at a time. The desert showed you how to outlast

all witness. If not interrupted, you
would again describe that state of human
bareness as earthly translucence.
But you will not be stopped. She turns

again. It is a Hitchcock turn. Acting out the scene, you pull
her face across your face, stretching jowls, pursing lips to recall

the residue of some horrible accident
that ruined her looks, and now you say
it was as if God had taken the same hand
he used to mold stars, and drawn it

from her brow down to her chin. Because there are children
asleep upstairs and you are afraid of aging them, you mime

the scream in memory of how you
screamed then, with great and animal
fluency. For a moment, it seems you too
are yawning, and we are relieved.

We will laugh as friends do: with gracious impatience.
Tell us again. Tell us of how she turned her corrugated face

and said, “I’m sorry. It’s ok. It happens to me all the time.”

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009