Mix-tape (#4) With the One I Still Haven’t Learned the Lyrics To

I couldn’t tell you how early I learned and lost the words
for nursery rhymes, or even recall the simple gist

of The Merry Miller or Billy Goat’s Gruff—I’m sure someone
upped sticks with their lover’s silverware, or else swore

a worthier valentine was behind them and ripe for the picking
(the “grass is always greener” type of deal), but it sounded

romantic enough for me to bring you to Storybook Land.
That weekend we would split a twin bed, and I would share

with you the attractions of my childhood. Or maybe try to
impress you with South Jersey’s kitsch? What’s cute about me?

Fifty-year-old, kid-sized fiberglass cottages. Playing
the mix-tape you made for me when I picked you up

at the Hammonton train station. Why else would I say
Pigeon, a pet name, if I didn’t love you? What else could you

have called him besides Simple Simon? The squabs
roosting and cheeping under The Crooked House’s awning

were as soft and miraculous in the June humidity as the faint
hint of salt when I kissed your neck, a little reckless, defiant

as the popcorn we tried to toss them despite the signs
that asked park-goers not to feed the birds, their cries

lonely, starved, like a music box in its slow diminuendo
or how we hummed to ourselves in our sleep.

The main draw for this dated wonderland: Peter, Peter’s
Pumpkin shell, four foot tall, and hollowed out.

Children screaming and knocking their heads
on the curved walls. I helped you in and guided your hips

so as to make sure your legs were centered
in the doorway and snapped a photograph, this picture

I still keep of you in a cigar box, somewhere,
at my parents’ house, along with a small porcelain bear,

gray, no bigger than a garden stone. Of the sweet nothings
I can speak of, of our spell together, it was that visit,

how cramped and warm we were that night, how there was no
way we would ever doze off, my whispering in your ear

“Hay diddle, diddle, let me kiss your nipple,”
the pale laugh that followed, and my palm on your lower back.

Before I would understand that there is nothing tender
about Mother Goose, before you would forget your overnight

bag in my near-empty bathroom cupboard (contact solution,
toothbrush, a change of underwear), before

I stopped hiding below the sheets with you, when I
still could find I love you, I love you like moon craters

outside my dark, uncurtained window, before I would watch
your train car rattle back southbound to Baltimore,

the same mix-tape still going, I would sit and listen
to what I didn’t know and wait, and I am sorry (for so much)

to say that I would skip ahead to the other tracks I could
roll over in my mouth, the ones I could make believe

were verses I would write for you. But not that one.

Author: Mark Jay Brewin Jr.