Ways to Tell
How to tell the tell that swells inside when I push my face to your pubes—taste sweat. What tells four months wait for hotel room. What tells in five stains for housekeeper. The number to tell how long to wrestle reins in bodies to speak. To tell—to say—
As a housekeeper at a beach resort, I stood on the balconies, watched tiny people on sand and wondered what it must be like to be so rich. So comfortable you could travel for more reasons than running away. How fast I would fall if I dived head first. It happened every year. No one tells this. Every hotel without a stain. My job then: cleansing the room of their remains.
To tell. Only taught the axiom: show like an art museum. The Kimbell—Caillebotte in the gallery. Everyone revolted at the way he painted a hung, skinned cattle carcass. Dead birds pinned to a darkly-lit table. Much better to admire his portraits. Much better to see the way he saw French people not what French people consumed. In one painting, the rain shimmers on the cobblestone road and I want to stare at the cobblestone but feel the art would be lost on me if all I looked at was the dirt. You say I go very fast through art galleries. I’m just embarrassed that I cannot show a slaughtered cow to you, show you the wet stone. I can only tell you I was happy to see it with you. I can only tell the image is important because the frame is important.
How to tell the future. Here is the frame: I have you draw my tarot, at the center is The Lovers for the both of us. For the outcome, the card that comes is the Devil. What more can I show you?
Me and this woman walking across workroom floor. She in office dress, business casual. Me in ratty clothes, arms sheathed in dust and dirt, crossing the football stadium-sized plant. Machines ran on our right, processing mail, forklifts drove past us on our left. She asked in a quiet, polite voice, “Do you go to church?” “Well, I only just got back into town. Been traveling and working so much… haven’t had time for church—” “But you believe Jesus Christ is our lord and savior, right?” I smiled and a yes fell out. The lie’s teeth sank deeper than expected. How could the woman tell? How could anyone. I’d pull out crucifixes and bible passages to keep me safe.
You are what I worship—your back pressed in the bed, my tongue inside you, my cock next. This pilgrimage: your taste. This cleansing: your heat. On the bed after, we talk next year when we’ll finally be together. We plan our kitchen, I don’t mention my fear you’ll find some seam in me. We’ll be on the couch, your hand on my thigh brushing an upturned string that makes me unravel at the slightest touch. Raven’s mate for life—can you imagine something that reckless? I tell you none of this. I tell nothing. I show and show and you probably think this is a romantic gesture.
But I’m not as good as a raven at collecting riches. We will be poor. My only constants: my debt, my cough, my books I use to hold up the table’s missing legs. I am not Caillebotte, able to see more than wet meat and dirt. You know this. I don’t have to tell. Somehow we remain the opposite of entropy—hurtling towards each other. The whole universe expands like a starved belly and we, we somehow contract.
Johnathan Harper keeps dead birds pinned to his table as well. Find him in Michigan if you’re looking for a fight. If you’d like to read more work under this pseudonym or contact about collaborating on some project, you can find him at harping-jay.tumblr.com.