Robert Joe Stout



Shadows guard the corners of the kitchen

where she sits, lips twitching

cryptic rhythms to computer game's response.

I rinse the grapes and pluck them from their stems,

slice plums.  It's just the two of us, I say.

She nods.  The two of us, yet he is here

—semi-independent, argumentative

and loving son whose absence

leaves an empty space that one of us,

somehow, should fill.  I rearrange containers,

check the shrimp, stir sauces, stop.

"Off to the movies . . . a bunch of us . . ." words

tossed aside in the same way he discards

candy wrappers, gum. No hug or kiss,

one shoe untied, yet mod pants on

(the latest style). I laugh, fingers turning

stove knobs, finding spoons, his image blending

into others: four or five of us (all boys)

perched behind the four or five of them

(all girls) to laugh, tell jokes, pull hair.

"What's that about?" I start to answer

stop. She seems so far away and he

so close. Time has buckled back

and I can reach across that loop

more easily than I can reach

across the table to the corner where she sits.

Her eyes ask who I am

and I, in answer, spread my hands

and tell her how, fourteen again,

I feel a little scared.



Spanish Lesson


Words float past a textbook stain,

remind me la and lo for her and it

but le for him (and le for her if indirect)

and mapa (like problema) takes an el

not la. My mind, like an old house,

forever needs repair. Life as we think it,

a straight line from birth to death.

But as we live it

there's a lot of back and forth,

absorbing things—what some call learning—

losing them (or parts of them)

then having them come back. La—like her

. . . what was her name? She giggled at the way

I spoke, precocious college boy, yet when I left

the party at her parents' house pulled me aside

"ven güero, ven!" and in a darkened bedroom

stripped and whispered Now talk your funny funny

words . . . .  To "know a person or a thing" is conocer;

quiero means I want or wish—but also

love. Her te quiero came with tears

the last time that we kissed

and I stood blinking at the closing door

unable to pronounce my words.  They're in the book

I open now, along with others:  Memories

as well as rules.  Repairs of things half done.

Robert Joe Stout's fiction and poetry has appeared in the anthologies Southwest, New Southern Poetry, and Survivors of the Invention.  A novel, Miss Sally, was published by Bobbs-Merrill and another, Running Out the Hurt, in 2012 by Black Rose.  He also has published the nonfiction books Why Immigrants Come to America and Blood of the Serpent: Mexican Lives from Praeger and Algora respectively.  He currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico.



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