He wears a red bandanna

He wears a red bandanna
Not to project his fierce independence
Nor as a fashion statement
But simply as a functional headband
To stop the perspiration from entering his eyes.
He wears it as would an athlete
Or a Grateful Dead follower
But mostly he wears it as would a landscaper
Battling the summer heat to pay fall’s tuition.

His girlfriend mechanic wears brown,
Plain brown, a button down shirt with no name
And a pair of workman’s pants.
Her hair greasy and tangled falls limply
Upon broad shoulders. Her complexion oily
But her manner demure and provocative with a smile quick and easy.

Even though he’s the college student,
She’s the one that likes to read.
He can’t step foot in a bookshop without feeling the pit of his stomach gnaw,
The angst of keeping up with studies and equations he has no intention to absorb.

Where he keeps his lips pursed, she inhales.
Where he sees and steps over junk,
She gapes and digs through piles of shoddy clothbound treasures,
With a purpose and pleasure
Unbeknown to a hygienically cautious person of ordinary ilk.

She loves books but she has no interest
In higher education, only tinkering with engines
That baffle many a college graduate.
She loves the smell of old books better than the smell
Of her boyfriend’s cologne.

She likes humidity and often can be found
Under her car in a midafternoon day off, nimbly adjusting this and that
With tools that intimidate many a learned person.

Just to work up a good sweat.
God how she likes to work up a good sweat.

She figures their someday maybe marriage could be perfect
If only he would stop blasting the air conditioner
First thing upon sitting in her car
And if only he’d stop disguising his natural bodily emissions
With a sickeningly sweet toxic lotion.

She prefers his earthy scent when he returns
From a day of mowing and edging lawns.
That’s when she opts to attack him like a rabid creature,
Only then when he stinks like an untamed lusty beast,
Not after he’s masked his smell with bathing soaps that make her gag.

If only he would continue to labor until his back swayed like a hungry mule’s,
If only he would choose to dive into life instead of paddling briskly to make it ashore,
He would make her glisten.

If only he would continue to grunt and gasp for his bread and water,
With the reckless frenzy and panting persistence of a delirious mutt in heat,
Instead of planning oh so deliberately for a future of lassitude
Behind a partitioned desk
In a properly ventilated office,
With clone associates in suit and tie,
Showered and powdered, after hours of primping,
With polished grins and nails –
Perfectly parted hair pieces of Grecian formulas
With not a red bandanna in sight.

If only their summer romance
Could withstand the influence
Of a bitterly arid, unscented corporate world
Where green does not make grass stains on ripped jeans
And green does not ripen the skin under your nails
And green does not fill your eyes moist with rolling pastures of manure.
No, this strain of green makes dreams of ceramic-tiled tubs possible.
This shade of green makes wet and wildly coarse and sticky skin offensive.
This tint of green makes work cerebral and perfunctory, not physical and filthy.

If only he could understand the difference.

The delicate space between the rugged lines

Of musty books with scarred spines and yellowed pages,
Books overflowing with morals and mighty thoughts to lubricate languid souls,
Not lesson plans in dry text with crisp precise lettering
Designed to prepare career-oriented upstarts for a bright future in finance,

If only he could breathe in full
And admire her hard-earned delectable odor

And see the simple pleasure
In a dirty open life.

As opposed to fretting about his balanced checking account and manicured hands.

If only he could strip off the bandanna
When he works like God’s most beautiful creature,
A two-legged lascivious horse,
And sweat freely,

Sweat freely
To cleanse his congested pores

Sweat freely
To purge his burdening guilt

Sweat freely
The beads and bullets
For one needs ammunition
Against the stifling demons
Of clinical surroundings.

Sweat, sweat, sweat it all out
And sop sop sop in the salt of it,
And stomp, stomp, stomp with toes and underarms exposed
In the soothing soil – in the mud – in the fertile marshland of orgasmic release.

If only he could get over himself, she wondered aloud
Before splashing her face
To arouse from a wet dream.

If only he could hug me
Sans the aftershave and deodorant.

If only he could get over
What he perceives
As an uncivilized aroma,

And smell whole,

Smell rank if he must,

But damn it to all perfume,

Smell human.

Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of Atticus Books, a small, independent publishing house located in Kensington, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. Dan is actively seeking manuscripts from authors with distinct voices. If you have poems that you would like considered for the “Poetry Break with Atticus Books” series, please e-mail a query to danc@atticusbooks.net.

Editor’s Note: “Poetry Break with Atticus Books” is an opportunity for readers every Tuesday and Thursday to pause a moment, see the world in a different light, and read a poem aloud. (OK, if you’re in an open-space cubicle, this might be tough – how about whispering it?) Regardless of what you do or don’t do for a living, reading a poem in the middle of a work day is not necessarily unproductive… or weird. On the contrary, it’s liberating… and healthy. Go ahead, make it part of your routine. It’s our little secret.

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