“The Contest” by Andrew Nurkin

Andrew Nurkin


Most mornings, even in the wet starvation covering everything
after the third snow in ten days, and for reasons I suspect
but am in no position to confirm, my neighbor comes out back to piss
on his garbage can in the small paved space between our houses
just below the window I stare out while pretending to read
but really trying with coffee and first light to melt the sleep,
the sense of already having blown the whole day, wasted the minutes
before they’ve even happened, though the municipal garbage truck
is just now beginning its arachnid climb up the street.
The birdbath in the middle of his yard still topped with snow like a
coconut crème on a cake service, the ones you see in diners down south,
delicious from this distance, and the tacky little cupid flag
his wife staked by the fence for Valentine’s Day now thankfully obscured
by a solid twenty inches of compressed erasure. I hear his screen door
slam and look up hoping to see his Tsi Tzu, whom he calls Terry Theresa
in his gruff mutter, the vocal illustration of enmity for the whole world,
even his damn ugly dog, as in “Terry Theresa, get the fuck out there and pee,
you turd,” hoping to see her bolt out the door, skid and slide
across the frozen yard, yapping in distress, this at least a moment of humor
at their expense, which is, I can only assume, what my neighbor
is searching for, a comedy of canine perturbation, when he flings
spoiled cold cuts over the lilac bushes lining the fence into our yard,
which he does often, slices of ham and bologna my dog gobbles down
with glee behind my back, barks for more of, scratches at the door to get,
this platter of salt and meat so unlike the dry kibble and occasional carrot
he’s used to, so new to his stomach that he vomits it up a little later
on the kitchen floor. And this is why the vengeful part of me, the raging part,
longs to see Terry Theresa yap for help as she careens
like a failed figure skater into the fence. But my neighbor follows her
out in his bathrobe, sidles up to the city-issued garbage bin
to relieve himself, and as I stare somewhere between the window
and the top of my screen, trying to take in the scene for its pure absurdity
but also revolted, for my neighbor must weigh almost three hundred pounds,
so full a man that if he were not dead I would swear I lived next door to
Marlon Brando in the later years, but it is just my enormous sonofabitch neighbor
pissing while I watch and don’t watch at the same time until he looks up
and somehow finds my gaze, and, knowing he has caught me
though I still refuse in the fragments of second that pass to meet his eyes
straight on, spreads a smile across his coldcut jowls, waves
with his one free hand, which he then lowers and uses to pull back his
bathrobe to show me his dick in full stream. It is then that I lose my nerve
and look away completely, an action I later interpret as defeat, though
what triumph would have been I have no clue. Perhaps triumph
would have been opening the window and pissing on his head,
or tossing chocolate-dipped milk bones over the lilacs, which would be the end
of Terry Theresa, or having lots of extra loud sex with strange men
right next to the window at all hours, which might be what pissed him off
to begin with, but these are just fantasies of triumph,
so all that is left to me is to write this poem, and there, now I’ve done it,
written a poem about my fat neighbor who feeds my dog deli meat,
urinates in the snow and exposes himself to me in the raw cold,
which is exactly what I needed to have done to get on with my day.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention


Andrew Nurkin: “Though I like going to poetry readings as much as anyone, occasionally my mind wanders. But the thing I love most about poetry, and poetry readings, is the dialogue a poem can open up between different points in time. The best poems I know are ones that knock me out of my lemming linearity into the free-form expanse of memory and experience.” (website)

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