By Tony Hoaglad
I like that, he said in the hospital, where I was rubbing his feet
which were dry and smelled a bit.
Ahh, he said, ahhh, as I worried
what the nurse in the corridor might think,
pushing my thumbs into the pads and calluses,
the skin that had grown leathery and hard
over a lifetime of streets and shoes—
and me trying but unable to forget
some of the things he had done
over the course of our long friendship.
Rubbing his feet was like reaching into some
thick part of my heart that couldn’t feel
and kneading away at it—
Blame caught inside the love
like a fishhook, or a bug in honey.
It is in my character,
this persistent selfishness—
one of my hands offering the gift, the other
trying to take something back.
Giving and getting
like two horses arriving at the same time
from opposite directions
at the stone gate
that will allow only one to pass.
This poem was first published in the New Yorker.