Loose Conflict

For H

It’s right when we pass the one-pump gas stations
    and dilapidated Subways so frequent in outer Tallahassee
      when I burn myself on a lighter, yelp
         and proceed to call myself a pussy. Tharpe Street

         spills out like a roll of stamps, and Grace turns
      to me and tells me that she’s personally offended
    when I use that word. That if I were a ventriloquist
she’d throw my voice into the toilet. And I pause

and groan for a moment, like a soda machine regurgitating
   a can, because I don’t know if I’m proud or
       ashamed of my Neanderthal blunder. Part of me
          is pleased with his boyish faux-pas: of how the break

          from child to adult was neither split nor separation—
        more a compound fracture. But in that cocktail light,
    I can see the conspiracy of lines that burrow into
her forehead, and I’m reminded of the small betrayals

that we put up with in relationships, pain we only
   listen to in passing. Fog encroaches, thick as a manatee’s
       skin, slumbers between the trees the way a finger
          rests just long enough on the hem of a first-date’s skirt

          and apologies unchain—until my voice is nothing,
        but the crackle of charred bone. It’s the same reaction
    I would have if a man came at me brandishing a knife.
I’d don a tough face before giving him everything I own. 

Jean-Luc Fontaine is a poet who currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida. His interests include naps and long bus rides. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rufous City Review, Naugatuck River Review and Apalachee Review