The Zygomatic Process of the Temporal Bone

In spite of our doubts, spring will happen again
and plans for afternoon tennis.
Oh, but you’re

in the throes of what is hopefully a cold; I, too,
am convalescing just now, after the stunningly

bad pull-apart quesadilla that haunted my guts,
like fast food except it took an age.
You bought

us one each just before the concert dedicated
to “the birth of soul” and romantically lighted;

the candles, though they flickered convincingly,
were battery-powered and the singer a fraud,

him and his band—the bingo night equivalent
of live music,
I called it, and yet Otis Redding’s

posthumous chart-topper stays in my inner ear,
particularly his lovesick whistling.
Took our way

through the Hasidic neighborhoods that night,
me listening to your commentary on the Crown

Heights riots of the ’90s and Germanic origins
of Yiddish, while I noticed how mature the girls

looked in their coats, chatting in hushed pairs
at every corner like heiresses, but how teenage

the boys invariably are in their ill-fitting jackets,
worried as clerks, stumbling toward the rituals

their fathers learned in fedoras of the old style.


Judge imitation rocks by their color, grip
them insufficiently, fall in a stun of chalk.
Anonymous as a torso winched skyward
yet clothed, with not Achilles’s lousy heel
but ankles like a wobbly Greek column,
I kiss the stitched mat, later ice my face
with a kit of shake-to-activate chemicals;
the welt that collapsed to a lovely echo,
this lipstick-red bloom of shame crossed
with faint hatching (viz, by those threads).
Another man’s limber, featherweight kid
hoots shrilly from the top. He tracks us
as a confusion of mice, doesn’t he?—old,
trying for a made-up summit, beholden
to our differing encumbrances of muscle.
Today I am done bouldering, thank God,
basically intact, only a touch embarrassed,
holding my own hand like a slipless bowl.


Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky
—W. H. Auden

Nibbling bread, attempting to eavesdrop on tourists
in a dive bar that’s internet-famous for being hard
to find as Narnia, at Tejo I pitted olives with my teeth,
gopherish, sexually vague in tight, expensive denim.
Into my khaki lap, like a fireman’s trampoline, I catch
dry Icaruses of leaves. I sleep late, trapped in flattering
dreams, ignore my German flatmates and cook oats,
then go north for a garden and bit of unplanned lunch
. In the Japanese tunnel one finds Instagram handles
and the uppercase of lovers’ initials carved vertically
into stalks of bamboo; scarred characters, meaningless
for any but their spur-of-the-moment interpreters.
I brush an upside-down ladybug from my hairy knee
and apply lip balm. Public art hides in the low weeds—
an oxidized orb of bronze meant to resemble a seed
but elephantine and sea-green from the cancerous air.
Children kick a ball one of the adults inflated across
this concrete amphitheater. Nobody watches for long.

[Garden of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation]


Cafes host salons for the moneyed, who show up in mustard-
yellow polos and overly cologned to discuss the forgettable,
and long malls of novelty shops advertise the worst joke shirts

about roosters.
Champing thick cigars, that fragrant, age-old
accessory of masculinity taking its ease, guys and their wives
lap the sidewalk at all hours and late into the evening will pin

graffitied dollars to the beams or lintel of a popular bar.
At less
busy intersections a banyan tree wrestles—almost a Laocoön
of cellulose—beneath the strangling tendrils of parasitic fig.

According to a memorial plaque, carousel horses were sculpted
from the denser, sun-resistant Gumbo Limbo before a painter
brushed on the layers of stirrups and bridle, for added realism.

Yanked down in papery red strips, the Gumbo Limbo’s bark
is said to match the quintessential tourist inadvertently burnt
during their stay.
In this southernmost of keys, the patriarchs

sport either tribal tattoos or pink shorts; both rent golf carts
by the half day.
Around they go, shuffling after the sax players
of happy hour, catching sunset like it’s some fairground prize.

Those roosters, which were brought over from Cuba, strutting
beautiful plumage—the lilting tail feathers the color of metal
subjected to electrolysis—are too large a symbol; instead, you

and I regard their loud, flightless antics with benign interest . . .

Scratching into the dirt, a miniature Archimedes of the tropics.

Erick Verran’s writing is forthcoming in The Cortland Review, Subtropics, the Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, and the Georgia Review. He lives in New York.