The poet and I have settled on the Smoking Porch of No Return when the gap-toothed, retired stripper from Gallipolis lumbers from behind all Frankenstein arms.
GOD I WANT TO GRAB YOUR ASS, she says.
You can say no, she says.
I look to the poet and that’s when I know I’m in trouble, looking to a poet for answers. Say "no," he says, stoically flicking cigarette ash over the fence because "no" is, so very obviously, the correct answer.
All night this woman has been campaigning for the stripper life, about how great it is (and did I know what a vibrator was, for chrissakes?) and that she supports her daughter who is now a stripper 110%.
Still, I can’t help but see sadness.
Um, no, I say.
My bra strap has slipped again and I should probably slide it back in place. Instead the poet orders another round. He is a fussbudget, or a man of particular standards—depending on one’s mood—so when he says that I’m one of the few people he’ll really miss when he moves, that I’m one of his favorites, emotion seizes me and I lurch to squeeze his Keatsian frame. I weep. This is embarrassing because I’ve heard that the hot bartender’s nickname for me is “Foxy Lady” and crying blotches my face but too late.
The poet is thin but stronger than he looks and smells of cinnamon-spiced wet leaves. I want to tell the poet that I love him but I can’t, because we are separated by lack of romance. Instead we bromance, and for a woman I make a great bro. We play golf and poker and darts. We hang. We debate topics that carefully circumvent our emotions. I come over with bottles of Bourbon just because—not to mention, I have a great eye for attractive women. The problem, though, is I am not a bro and it’s last call, the final shot, time for everyone to decide where they are sleeping tonight.
Because if we got together it would have to be a relationship, he says.
I am respected. Which is the worst. But I will giggle for days over the look of abject terror on the poet’s ruffled owl face when I drive us home and swerve accidentally on purpose a few times at mailboxes but in the end I’m alone at home knowing that the reason I paused in my reply to the stripper was because it’s been a long time, longer than I like to remember, since anyone wanted, really wanted my ass like that.