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Joe Cottonwood


Joe Cottonwood is a carpenter by day, poet by night. His most recent book is Foggy Dog. More at

Wet Nurse

Harold asks for a résumé.
Akna bares her left breast.
The nipple is bulbous, erect.
No, Harold explains, where have you worked before?
Akna bares her right breast.

Akna’s from Guatemala;
her language a Mayan dialect.
Harold’s world is software;
his language, hard code.

Harold’s wife handled soft things
like growing the child inside.
Now out, helpless, hungry.
Wife suddenly dead and Harold over his head
coping with grief and a newborn. Through church
comes this refugee, Akna, with infant.
Harold’s baby barely alive.
Nurture, soothe, survive.

Boys grow, hermanos de leche. Milk brothers.
Meanwhile Harold the father, Akna the mother
live under one roof, sleep in separate rooms,
have girlfriends, boyfriends. Nothing sticks.

Harold and Akna at the soccer games,
the robot competitions. Breakfast, dinner,
always together. They whisper, they laugh.
Do they—? Are they—? People wonder.
Harold dodges. Akna says No entiendo.
The brothers don’t answer, simply smile.

At high school graduation sitting side by side,
Akna in tears, Harold takes her hand.
Pareja de leche. Milk couple.
What matters they do, they are.
Nurture, soothe, survive.

Migration, Judah Streetcar, San Francisco

“You have the face of an otter.”
She sits beside him, the only open seat.
“Yip,” he says imitating an otter’s bark,
then wonders Do otters bark?

He, professor of anthropology, white man
with red beard recently divorced
taking the Judah streetcar to campus
where he will conduct a seminar
on Incan migration patterns.

She, to his practiced eye, of Native American
bone structure and flesh (smooth, flawless)
dressed as though taking the Judah streetcar
to mop hallways and swab toilets.

Pleasantly he asks “Do you like otters?”
“We used to roast them on a stick,” she
says. “First we’d sell the pelts.”
From her body he feels warmth,
glow, like from a campfire.

“Are you making fun of me?” he asks.
“No. I would marry you.”
Awkwardly he laughs. “Now you’re making fun.”
“No no. I would marry you.”
And it comes to him: You, I,
we could make beautiful babies.

At the campus stop as on a leash
he follows black hair braided like strips of leather,
a tassel like a tail over her butt.
She steps to the crowd. Gone.

A sharp pain in his leg as if
caught in the steel jaws of a trap.
Where did she go? Why is he here?
A river of students part for his island,
splash at his rocks.

Working graveyard shift

my sleep is nuts
so on nights off I walk the dog at 3 a.m.
hoping a German shepherd normalizes me
except Quinn growls at the cop
who stays in his cruiser
talking through the open window
just letting me know somebody called
from one of those dark houses
but there’s no law against walking at 3 a.m.
so have a good night.

Sometimes I jog the golf course under quiet stars.
I let Quinn off the leash.
Together we run over grass.
Even without a canine nose I love the smell,
the sound of sleeping snoring chlorophyl.

One night I’m running when the sprinklers start.
Immediately before I can think better
I pull off my clothes, every stitch.
I run. So free! It’s fantastic, the dog agrees
until I trip
and roll
but that’s fantastic too
except the bruises
and suddenly the spotlight, the cop.

I have mud on my body, grass in my hair.
The sprinklers keep chug-chug-chugging in circles
splat with cold bullets across my butt
as the cop writes out a ticket
for an unleashed dog. That’s all,
because there’s no law against
running through sprinklers
on graveyard shift.
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