The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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All summer long, the summer
of Dumbrowski’s dying, you worried
whether that waitress would sleep
with you. There was always some magic
sign. She smiled at you twice,
three times if you ordered dessert,
and her voice weaved musical
through the untuned forks and spoons.
You admired her accent, she was local,
a local girl, knew where the rail tracks
ran, swam naked in a pale quarry,
held secrets in the hollows
of her neck. You memorized
her scents — apricot jam, pie crust —
you from somewhere else, a shipping-
and-receiving clerk in charge of labels,
auditioning for adulthood in thrift-shop ties.
At the hospital, you told Dumbrowski: I met a girl,
which might have been the truth
on occasion, though really you dreamed
of the waitress, your waitress,
sweet greasy onion rings on her
fingers as you lay in a pool
of your own heat. Dumbrowski knew
nearly everything. For three months
he was your cigarette break, your boss,
your father, and you were his son,
and now he was surrendering
to some absurd disease, gray
as an old shoe, weightless,
collarbones strung up like crossbows.
Once, at the counter, you saw
her sip a chocolate shake,
whipped cream streaked along her lips,
and it was then you almost
worked up the nerve to speak.
He said you should live.
This was Dumbrowski’s advice
when you told him about the way her red tongue
curled and the cream dissolved like a cloud.
And you told him you would,
you promised, as if you might know
what that meant for both of you.