His breath is bad: cigarettes and
agitated solitude. He stands outside
his car excavating shrapnel from his
hand, vestiges of a lawnmower blade
sharpened cruelly, sparks taking revenge
as metal glazed in splinters. The VA
doctor, to whom he resents going, says
he is lucky the constant picking has
not resulted in gangrene. He wants to
show me new craters – I know it. That
is why he stands where he stands and
I, where I can see him. It is not his
slovenliness that repulses me. I once
saw the toe tagged on a drowned man
whose body had been raked for days by
seaweed, and through no fault of my
own, caught a whiff of the bacon flesh
of children charred in a house fire. It
is not the proximity of death that disturbs
me, but the closeness of living, the
desperate fog of eyes that betray glibness
of tongue. “Come see my tomatoes,” he
says. Just the other day I caught a
fish and thought about him as I watched
the stunned exchange of artless communication,
drowning in air. I kicked the thing, no
closer than a toe’s dull nudge toward
the shiver and sudden disappearance of
alien flesh beguiled by distance.

*Edward Francisco’s poem “Neighbor” first appeared in North Dakota Quarterly (University of North Dakota, 1988) in a set called “Two Poems.” (p. 148-49)

** Featured image: Patrick Hendry, Unsplash


  1. Deeply moving! Thank you.

  2. I felt this one—visceral and raw (in a good way).

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