by Jennifer L. Knox
THE RABIES SONG
At the bar, a rabies expert says
there are places on this planet with
“Are they small and surrounded
by water?” I ask.
“How did you know that?” she asks.
I want to shout, “Isle Royale’s so far
from Grand Portage’s shore,
but I don’t want to interrupt.
were a game changer in the ‘50s, apparently.
“When my mom was a little girl, kids would yell,
and everyone would scatter.
Now for no reason, she likes to shout,
She’s 85…it cracks her up.”
The expert shakes her head, “Rabies
was and is a big deal.”
“Can birds get rabies?”
“No!” her hand swats the question out of the air.
“What can get rabies?”
“Any mammal!” she snaps and
the crowd Whoooos. More people
at the bar are listening in because
we’re talking about rabies.
“Never seen a case, but I’m sure it’s happened!”
“Sure! And they’ll rip you apart!” the expert gestures.
“Oh, boy! I bet!”
“Run right up your leg!” she adds.
“Their little hands!” someone shouts.
“What about a rabid bear?” I ask and—wow—
I wish you could’ve heard the bar crowd
with their beers roaring for the bear,
see the expert nodding deeply
and her husband cracking up…
I don’t know why…it was like a corny song
you’d rolled your eyes at but then it’d gotten so
old, it felt
good to sing it along
with everyone signing along
and even though you never
sang it before, you knew
all the words.
I met the woman who I hadn’t seen in years
at a bar with lots of happy friends around her.
I could tell right away she was different:
flushed as a flower, showing more leg—
and what legs!—smiling with her teeth apart,
breathless like she’d just run her first
marathon and someone kind had thrown
a shiny silver blanket over her shoulders.
“I’m getting a divorce…” she said, pulling down
the corners of her grin like a too-short skirt,
“…it’s a hard time,” she looked away. “But
a little exciting, right?” I asked, remembering
the relief: not knowing what would happen
next, but knowing what would not ever
again: begging to be loved the way I
wanted to be. I was all the proof
I needed: what he said didn’t exist, did.
“I’m going to the doctor,” my old friend
tells me over the phone. “Why?” I ask
and suddenly wonder, are we still close
enough for me to ask such things?
He sighs, “Uch, it’s disgusting—
totally disgusting—and embarrassing.
I’m sure you can guess what it is. I hate
my body. Gotta go,” he pips and hangs up.
Old friend, I cannot guess the disgusting,
embarrassing thing your body’s doing—
I have no clue. Is this a measure of our
distance? Did you tell me once and I forgot?
I know we went to the same allergist for years.
Instead of guessing, my mind imagines it’s
because a glittery purple unicorn horn is
growing out of your butt. You think
it's disgusting and embarrassing, but I think
it’s awesome. Dude, I live in central Iowa.
Or maybe you have herpes. Whatever.
Everyone in New York has herpes, honey.
You got a magic asshorn.
Jennifer is the author of four books of poems: Days of Shame and Failure, The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, Drunk by Noon and A Gringo Like Me. Her poems have appeared four times in the Best American Poetry series, the anthologies Great American Prose Poems, From Poe to Present and Best American Erotic Poems, and publications such as the New York Times, the New Yorker and American Poetry Review. Her non-fiction writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Inquisitive Eater, Press Play and The Best American Poetry Blog.