Patrick Whitfill

October 24, 2021 Whitfill Patrick



kiya – always arising
And I’d see it that way, the word, all
in caps, close enough to Wylie’s ACME
that I could almost believe the whole
thing was a specific way to get away with


a bad joke, a real anvil for a sense of
humor, and that my face would find new ways
to break wouldn’t even begin to explain
how sensitive I’ve become in middle-age,


but here I am, almost crying because, one
afternoon after band practice—this is all
back in Texas, on a brown-out day, when
the plowed-up topsoil, dry from months


without any kind of moisture, would just
rise into the air, like it belonged there, had
been playing dead this whole time, and now
had a reason to be out there in the wind—


and really, anymore, everything I try to do
comes down to seeing what happens if
I say as much as I can, and that’s also what
I took away from cartoons in general:  that


none of this makes sense, not really, so if
I find myself leaning too far over the shoulder
of a cliff, my arms pinwheeling, trying to swim
back at the air, I shouldn’t worry too much


about that plume of dust waiting for me after
I fall, and should, instead, enjoy the fact
that at least something’s waiting for me out
there, and all of this is a way to not tell you


exactly what it felt like to remember drinking
from a chrome water fountain one day in
high school, the one out by the tennis courts,
south of the school, and how, when I bent


down to take a sip, I caught the upper part
of my left cheek’s reflection, the place where
all of my acne gathered, the place where, if
you see me in the kind of half-light almost


any evening’s made up of, you can still see
the pockmarks, like, yes, that plume of dust,
but this one, this spot, back then, it would
almost pulse, and I would swear that I could


feel my heart in there, right in my face, always
rising, yes, like the dust, and the neighbor’s
barn that one year the big tornados came up
from Sweetwater, nothing but picket fences


for teeth, and teeth, that year, were everywhere,
and I leaned over this water fountain after
band practice, had only moments before
made some joke about how this one tuba


player always wore sweaters and shorts, no
matter the weather, and, yes, there, if I could
make a mouth out of every lie I’ve ever told,
then that one, too, would’ve had teeth, but


instead, I went for a drink of water, and what
I saw pulsed back at me, convex, twisted
in the way that metal twists all its reflections,
like a cartoon mustache, a cartoon villain’s


mustache, and, trust me, when I say that I
know we can’t sit around crying over our
faces anymore, trust me, because I’ve got
this kid, now, and he’s tiny, so tiny that, I


would bet you could put him right inside
that water fountain, down inside that tuba,
and even though it’ll sound like a lie, he’s
got this one tooth, now, right in the middle


of his bottom gum, and now, what I know,
is that the face I’m wearing has its pits,
and I find nothing in that which is beautiful,
except to say that I stayed there at that


fountain that day for a good five minutes,
my head down, letting the almost cool
water hit that patch of acne, that cartoon
portion of how my heart makes its way


to my flesh, again and again, as if flesh
had nothing better to do than sit against
the bones like a promise or an apology,
assuming there’s a difference between


the two, and that night, after my mother
came to pick me up from school, I sat
in front of a full-length mirror in my
bedroom, the one I’d painted in matte-


black, because surfaces, I hoped, could
simply change like that, a brush, a can,
an afternoon, and I sat there, crying,
holding the back of my hand against


each patch of acne, just so I could see
what I’d look like with nothing extra
rising in me, as if my heart didn’t need
to escape, as if I could make enough


sounds with my mouth to change the way
my skin broke out, and the doctors would
say it like that, a bad break-out, as if I’m
just this prison for whatever crimes my


body will commit against my body,
and I guess what I’m saying is that I get
why that fucking coyote kept chasing
that bird around, not because he thought


he’d ever catch it and have a dinner, but
because, after a while, given a long enough
series of breaks, the only thing that ends
up making any kind of sense is how


the fall is a hug the body can’t say no to.

Patrick Whitfill has poems and reviews appearing in the Threepenny Review, Colorado Review, Subtropics, 32 Poems, among other journals. Currently, he teaches at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC, and he co-curates The New Southern Voices Reading Series.