The National Poetry Review

T. Dallas Saylor

IF YOU’LL BE MY BODYGUARD, I CAN BE YOUR LONG-LOST PAL

Do you tutor statistics? a student asks her,
            having just signed in at the learning commons desk.
Oh no, Gina croons, hobbling over,
            I slept with the professor to get through that class.
It’s December, fall semester dissolving,
            and I’ve brought a deck of cards to work
but it won’t matter—Gina will talk away the day,
            stories of grad school with rock and roll legends
long since dead, or court cases defending
            the same oil tycoons who later eyed her body,
or her latest poem idea, though she can’t decide
            what else to write beyond the title:
“Jesus Was a Jew.” She likes my opinion on writing,
            talks math and physics too, my only coworker
who doesn’t think my background is nuts—
            the two bachelors’ degrees, the Catholicism,
the long hair and earrings—tragically hip, she calls me,
            just like her and her husband Bates decades back.

When I tell her about my workshop, how my classmates
            are tearing down my poems, even who I am
as a person, she nods as I tear up a little,
            then launches into stories of her own:
Bates standing up for her in a grad seminar,
            or her friend the big-time literary scholar
who shreds men like a pencil sharpener,
            or the boy she once let walk her home
who later became a mass murderer. By afternoon
            we’re hungry, so she straps on her wrist brace,
grips the handles of her walker like a weapon
            and pulls herself out of the desk chair.
We raid the break room for Christmas cookies,
            & as she tells me another story—Bates
sitting in class stone-faced in sunglasses
            & a half-unbuttoned shirt—I’m careful to walk
close enough I could reach out my arms
            if she stumbles, but far enough it doesn’t seem so.

Over styrofoam-cup drip coffee she tells me
            she wants me to speak at her funeral. I
almost laugh, but realize she’s not joking,
            that maybe she feels a window open on the other side
of the house,
as my teacher Tony Hoagland said
            as he was nearing the end, so I smile, nod, agree—
how can I not when our lives overlapped
            like fate on fire, my body budding into the hell
of Texas July and deepening shame,
            her body a bent stalk ducking
out of the way of her dust storm life.

Gina, when that day comes, what will I say
            to a room of your family I’ve never met
to let them know you and I got each other
            when no one else got us?
I scrawl an integral on the whiteboard
            for some poor student facing an imminent
calculus final who asks me, How can you do this
            and also write?
From a few chairs over
you lean in and say, It’s all one.
            Later you ask me to write down for you
on a scrap of paper the one they call
            God’s Equation, relating all five
of math’s most important numbers:
            e + 1 = 0.
This—the poems—it’s all the same.


T. DALLAS SAYLOR’s work often meditates on the body, especially gender and sexuality, against physical, spiritual, and digital landscapes. He is a PhD student in poetry at Florida State University, and holds an MFA from the University of Houston. His work has been featured in Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Colorado Review, Christianity & Literature, PRISM international, and elsewhere.

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