Presented for your torment and amusement,

You Said

“…shall you
-Charles Olson

You was stepping off a crowded subway train. We know You was there.

You! You, whoa! Hey!

You spun around and saw Joe Mama coming toward You. You crossed the platform.

Mama. Hello.




Their lips and the skin of their faces might have retracted completely for a moment, leaving only brilliant light and tanning teeth. Mama handed You a menthol cigarette. They rose out of the earth toward a street loosely littered with pedestrians, the last handful of lunch break. As You and Mama stepped out from between the glinting handrails making conversation, sunlight crowded around them and they gestured simultaneously, each swinging up his or her outside-hand palm, as if they juggled the light and smoke between them. One becalmed commuter, paying attention to her senses, turned her head toward the mint smoke and quick, bright words; she saw You swaddled in a laundry-fuzzed orange sweater, puffed round with hidden layers, thin blue denim whipping like balloon tassels below. Mama walked bent slightly toward You, the gestures of his inside hand independently including and presenting You, as if that limb were saying Here You is! Here! Look at You!

Mama’s navy overcoat had a wide, brick-brown faux-fur collar, striking to the attentive.

Ham’s here this weekend, too, on my couch, he was saying.


Ham had gone to college with Mama, Mama had gone to high school with You, and You was still in graduate school two hours from Ham’s and Mama’s alma mater. They were all in another city now where Mama lived and worked, far from either school.

Ham had started speaking in tongues at his twenty-first birthday party. It had made sense to You and everyone else to call someone who spoke in tongues ‘Ham.’ They would explain the name to no one else, and probably no longer understood it themselves. Ham.

Mama’s coat played a short section of something by Mozart, and he fished out a cellular phone. Phone to his ear, Mama grinned, spoke in Spanish, paused, more Spanish, another pause, then more Spanish that included a drawn out You-oo accompanied by nodding and momentary eye contact with You, then more smiling Spanish with fucking in the midst, and he hung up. Mama put the phone away.

Arthur? You asked.

Mama only smiled and sang under his breath, Saturday night’s alright, alright.

At Mama’s apartment, Ham turned off football and bounced to his feet. He hugged You with a high pitched A-ai!

Ham jumped back and looked at both of them, gripping one friend’s shoulder with each hand.

Dom wi puh not pee on at, Ham said, waving one arm at the silenced television.

You and Mama understood it to be a beautiful metaphor of a train, concerning the football game. They all spilled light from their eyes and between their teeth. The light might have consumed their heads and become a fan-hub with their bodies as blades, whirling them until their shoulders were pale and their heels flushed, until all of Mama’s furniture was crowded against the wall. You hugged them both together and turned football back on, muted, and everyone alternately talked and kept quiet, mixing drinks, music, stories…

We arrive late, you and I, doing our own thing among them. I say, Hola. Everyone, hello, and Ham says, We bow You di nada Gucci, which we understand as the beginning of a story he wants to tell You. He makes sounds we don’t catch, pantomimes figures with no relation to existing objects. When he bends sideways and claps his hands together, as if imitating a crocodile, saying Im yi purr, we feel together like we have discovered workable nuclear fusion. When he leans back and whispers, Doo twih pen tay, we all see a bearded thing like a dragon curled around the dome of the ancient library at Alexandria.

The story is about Mama meeting You underground, walking here with a few people paying attention. We lean forward, you and I, with no awareness of ourselves, grinning, tingling, wondering if You will get it.