Be Green

JoAnna Novak

for Alec

The more I wash these pajamas, the softer they will become so I move into the laundrette with a sack of quarters. It's the one in Maplewood, exactly as it was ten years ago. Persimmon orange chairs bleached by the St. Louis sun and hard on the bones in my back. Tables with built-in ashtrays and cigarette slots that fit my finger. Where Alec and I would sit, drinking convenience store coffee from next door, eating Heat Peanuts by the tube, memorizing GRE words--manque, hessian, sinecure--and he could etymologize me drunk or sober, in the jade-jungle backyard of a famous poet or the casino in St. Charles or the cracked second-from-left chair at the laundrette. Nights we would drive around St. Louis like it was an amusement park, no agenda, no schedule, no bedtime, the mix CD a man he loved had burned for him playing on repeat, burned into the stereo, burned into that summer, burrowed into the crud of the Corolla, how many times did we hear "Karma Police," how deep did I sink behind that seatbelt when Thom York sang "for a minute there I lost myself," what minute was I then, what minute am I now? There was nothing embarrassing about doing laundry with Alec, even his stiff boxers or my green running shorts, drenched from Forest Park sixers in the rain, everything steamy, everything humid, everything green, verdant from Old French, verdoier, "be green," I am green for you now and taking care with these pajamas, letting the cotton come. We all release, we can relax. There was another song on the CD that went "be gentle with me," and Alec and I would laugh, apply it to every delicate man we loved. The song is gone, the men still tender, their hearts spinning in the most tender ways. I want to fold your laundry. I have not been a sorter but every day I choose to change. I purify like religion, lemon and so much cayenne I numb my lips. If I wash these pajamas one hundred times, perhaps the setting will shrink, time and space. A decade is a day, California is Missouri. The pajamas are a brazen print, yellow rabbits fucking. I know a way to bring feeling back to a mouth.