Three Poems – Josh Gaines


A Balance 

We caught 88 crabs 
in fifty minutes at tide 
going out, we’d brought them up 
by threes like it was personal and

I can’t remember why we stopped.
Maybe we’d shed enough gulf blood 
for one sunset. Maybe 
it was a matter of weight.

When I stumbled, dropped the cooler,
stood sore and wheezing, you marched 
back, and lifted it into your car
like it was empty.

At your home we boiled them by batches
and drank the best beer we could find
at a 7-11, in Florida,
on a Sunday.

By nightfall, the last dozen boiled 
while our fingers ached raw from fighting 
chitinous shells that broke against our 
patience allowing us access to the softest parts.

By midnight’s aging side, wives asleep 
on the couch, felines purring dandruff
at our ankles, and the beer gone,
we had opened wine tagged for sangria,

and we drank it anyway.
“What about 5 am?” you asked.
You asked these things sometimes but rarely 
meant them. We’d be up no earlier 

than we needed. This came before children when time 
was ours, before Alaska and the trading of wings.
Patience and four pounds of crabmeat 
waited between us.

When we were done, and done, 
and done, you offered a silent toast,
an empty glass full of good reasons
for the things we do.

I tried to lift my glass to yours. 
When it wouldn’t move I said 
I hadn’t trained for this. You shrugged, 
tossed yours back, left the table:

            I remained
            seated while you cleaned,
            tapped my watch for dreaming,
            stared into that immovable glass,
            and marveled at your strength. 

The Naming

“She’s already born,”
the nurse who would never see me says.

Sweat from my nose
breath of bourbon laced in Listerine

a calm hate to the room
suggestions of questionable paternity

mother’s eyes
vacant marbles

that little face, bloody, half blind,
screaming for the swollen breast.

My finger taps my eyebrow
the scar it hides.

“She’s not mine,” I tell the room.
“I don’t look like that.”

But there’s a form to sign
and it wants to know
your name. 

The Sunburned Mole

She doesn’t know I’m home.
Asleep at 3pm
to-do list on the comforter
next to her graying head.
She’s not that old.
She is that tired.

If I checked the bedside trashcan
I’d find a bottle
sometimes empty
sometimes we can’t pay the electric
and the summer heat sheets 
bleed damp around her
around that edge 
of kneecap she never seems to shave
and the tendon 
behind with the razor scabs
the armpit skin 
fold that marks her self-conscious 
the smaller breast
squint lines to her eyes
scar across her 
ass from a midnight combination
of broken 
bottles and playground slides

the mole on her back
she never sees
that sunburned and turned red
and stayed red
and isn’t cancer—yet.

Reality TV projects silhouettes 
on curtains
on mute.
Unmarred models’
forms falling hard 
on sharp heels.
She fell asleep to that

and I turn it off
because that isn’t beauty.
It isn’t anything.

About Josh Gaines

Josh Gaines is a Portland based author, and is the editor in chief of Thoughtcrime Press. He earned his Writing MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013. His fiction was most recently published in London's, Dark Mountain. You can find his book of poems and flash fiction, Cigarette Sonatas, at View all posts by Josh Gaines

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