Two Poems by Matthew Ostapchuk

Two Poems by Matthew Ostapchuk

Yonder Public School Adonis


There was that time in the locker room when we were toweling

Off and the steam in the air was hard to breathe. You caught me


Peeking. Out of my eye corners. You caught me with my tongue

Out and a bridge of saliva between my teeth. You didn’t stop


Mingling cotton to stomach, those muscles defined gruff, panting,

Down your abdomen, the thigh, the knee, but up and just beneath…


There was that time you never said another word to me—I know,

I understand. You became what I could paint in memories, brief


Experiences, distance, loose glances, from brushups in hallways

Brimmed, the playful lines in the flashing cracks of the toilet stall


As I walked past. And if all we are is cracks, and brushups, loose

Saliva? If all we are is steam, thick, hard to breathe, then so be it.



Crayon Poem

—after Philip Levine


Under the dock in Coney ‘round noon

I faced a man singing lowbeats to a crayon

staining his right palm. The left was open,

it kept the rhythm, for his speech was seizing,

imitating radical tonality of a voicepattern

guttural, but dull & alien, a vernacular Caribbean


so slurred that I was tight-twisted all up. Here

was a man dressed in handmedowns & thrown-

meouts, tiemeups with stains of godawfuls:

he had no legs; stunted fleshy stumps. But

he knew the whole crayon & fondled it sensual,

like a woman to whom he’d made love


when he could walk right & his trace manhood

was worthy worship. He knew the crayon

as a woman, like all women, just as the first

I loved after the death of my father. He knew

carnation pinks, he knew fleshes, violent reds,

& magic mint, he knew how the melted crayon


seared tips of fingers. He knew the sadness

of beds in December, when the heat of the body

fades—it inevitably does—& it’s all mundane,

similar, lonely. At first I thought his shredding skin

was dark but we were close—a breath apart—

showed I could understand, counting spaces


between seconds—& you know what? He was just wax.

I peeled off his face, realized we were similar:

Mundane. Lonely. He was king of dockdepths

Coney, someone out of the mind of Cummings

or Ferlinghetti that loss had diminished to nothingness.

I scuttled his once-self there, minutes mingled


in wholeness amidst whitefish & fits, within

that final poem of umber paraffin, while great

apathy echoed in footsteps above us. Then

the fire died as fires do, & I dug the crayon from ashy

sand. I drank the ocean & thanked god I wouldn’t be

one lost forever, somewhere below the raucous vendors’ cries.


Matthew Ostapchuk’s poetry is upcoming in the new issue of Interrobang!? Magazine, and has most recently appeared in Best New Poets 2010 and Sakura Review, among others.