Self-Portrait as a Series of Bluffs

Chris Hayes

Boys I loved to follow in the dark                climb upfind me                       on that bluff above the rivermuddy swirl sparked with stars            I feltsomething break apart                        my head sayinghang back                   they won't love you like you love themyou'll have to pedal home                    bewildered againrecall your icy chest                how a startled doveexploded out of the sleeve wind made      of a shaken treewhen one of them leapt                    from so high upyou thought he'd die                    before he swam back to youthe bluff was that it happened                    that way                    the bluffis that anytime                                    I spat the word pussyon the basketball court                with those boys          I wanted thatplosive sound on my tongue                    and nothing else*Born in a valley of bluffs,I return to a bluffcracked open by Union cannonballs,called Red Paint Hill instead of Look at All This Blood;bluff that accepted the wheels of a truck going over,consumed by fire;bluff overlooking a baptism,the river that swallows a brief Hallelujah.*So I kept alive easy enough there in the smallness of wounds        I carried like everyone else and waited for nothing to change.So I met a girl, got married and had kids and went with it until        something else broke or I did or it didn’t feel like love at all,and by then it was too late. Stroll the baby, feed the horses,        lie down next to a woman estranged from all she wantedbecause of me. Imagine it. Such a small house and no wish        fulfilled within it. I have regrets. To bluff: to say: to not.*Bluff meaning husband and forever;bluff that hides a cave with a mattress insidecovered in lovesick graffiti,where I reached for a boy’s hand then pulled back;to bluff around the bush; to bluff up the wrong tree.*Eros an empty locker room.Eros a jockstrap.Earthy smellI lingered undressingto be nearer to.And afterward, the slick,steam-whittled showersmystical with heatheld me there. Hang back.Some beginningwith an end inside—small-town fear. A boydragged behind a truckwas in the news.I didn’t want to be the news.*Bluff no helicopter can reach when the suicidal leap,posted with a sign: NO TRESPASSING;bluff haunted even in daylight;King's Bluff, where I got laid, or said I got laid;bluff of the tourism slogan "Gateway to the New South";bluff of the backward glance,of our youth pastor saying I'll jump (not a bluff).*This other misdirection—I've slept my way into so many rooms.Marriage den, motel of my affair.And it was never about the greasy,incessant need of two peoplefucking only for lust.When I felt alone, there was alwaysa man or woman readyto deadbolt the door behind usfor an hour, to give or receive,then leave with nothing.Cherry pits, an empty bottle of wine.*Bluff where I lost my keys, my nerve;bluff I carry like a nail in the roof of my mouth;bluff that says This is all I want.*I walk in late wintersome unscripted ledgeleading down to the river.Landscape as wish.Look at the way the bluffbreaks and holds, like desire.Look: no doves or boys,only a hunk of rocksomebody gave a namebecause they wanted a way back to it.

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Chris Hayes has published poems in Bennington Review, Hobart, Gettysburg Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and several other literary magazines. He has been the recipient of the Erskine J. Poetry Prize from Smartish Pace and the Oboh Poetry Prize from Boxcar Review. His first collection of poetry, Hey Y’all Watch This, is forthcoming from Barrow Street Press. He lives and works in Tallahassee, Florida.

Summer 2019

Columbia, Missouri

University of Missouri

Speer Morgan

Managing Editor
Marc McKee

Associate Editor
Evelyn Somers

Poetry Editor
Jacob Hall

The Missouri Review, founded in 1978, is one of the most highly-regarded literary magazines in the United States and for the past thirty-four years we’ve upheld a reputation for finding and publishing the very best writers first. We are based at the University of Missouri and publish four issues each year. Each issue contains approximately five new stories, three new poetry features, and two essays, all of which is selected from unsolicited submissions sent from writers throughout the world.

New, emerging, and mid-career writers whose work has been published in The Missouri Review have been anthologized over 100 times in Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, Best American Travel Writing, Best American Poetry, The O. Henry Prize Anthology, and The Pushcart Prize. We are also pleased to be the first to have published the fiction of many emerging writers, including Katie Chase, Nathan Hogan, Jennie Lin, Susan Ford, and Elisabeth Fairchild.

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