Kissing Disease

He taught himself to play sonatas
two fingers at a time, exhibiting
the same restrained rage other men
reserve for making ransom demands.
Passed out by morning, pinned supine
to the piano bench. At the house-sitting
house all the girls have gone home.

Summerlong we’re employed by an
absent family to feed and walk their
runty spaniel. Rescued late in life,
she remains skittish as a stray around
strangers, yet in his presence she senses
a shared fear, and reassured, sleeps

sweetly at his feet. Upstairs, I rise
at noon in a darkened room, weary,
unwell, wondering if those tumescent
nodes in my throat are symptoms
of hangover, some form of corporal
punishment. At nineteen, I’m ill-prepared
to recognize the onset of actual illness.

Kissing disease, is what the nurse says.
Mine a special case of atypical lymphocytes
compounded by a three-day beer binge,
juvenile liver turning spoiled grey
like markdown meat on its sell-by date.

I suffered another condition that could’ve
had the same name, a compulsion, putting
my lips on every available face and breast
and pelvis, sealing each fold of flesh
with my tongue like an envelope of money.

Before driving myself to the pediatrician,
I drank a last swallow of something and
woke my good friend. He stares out the window,
woozy swoon of glass settled in a leaded pane,
seemingly liquid, incapable of flowing free.
Thirty years later his marriage will dissolve
in a familiar refrain. This isn’t the life I imagined…

The dog whimpers, lost in a dream. Legs twitch,
claws scrape floorboards. I want to believe
she is chasing a squirrel. Not trying to outrun her
childhood, memories of the hands of careless men.