Joel Peckham

The Orange in Winter

Is in the touch of Rachael’s fingers curling and uncurling in the gray of my chest when we are both exhausted and sex

is the last thing on my mind until she steps them down my abdomen and I slide my hand past the little bumps of her spine to the waistband at her lower back. Delight

is always tangled in surprise. These things that take us unaware like a child finding a dollar in the pocket of a pair of pants he only wears to church a couple times a year, laundered soft as lambskin, full of possibility, mislaid offering, magic of what is and could be—ice cream cone, candy bar, a superball to bounce against the wall then hide behind your back when your sisters come running. You get the idea,

the shift, the turn, a path to a path to clearing, the possibility of sunlight shining in. Somewhere the sound of moving water on stones. Or maybe you are driving through winter mountains on 79 toward Cumberland, where there is nothing on the dial but angry frightened men, shouting angry frightening things and then,

through a thousand flakes of static, a melody, jazz guitar maybe with the bend of a string dipping, diving, butterfly winged at the windshield. And the light coming through the windshield

and the light reflected are not the same light though both can blind and burn in the way love changes with each new lover, so you half convince yourself you’ve never met before. I’ve been

too many things and forgotten what it was to be them—at least the details and details matter. The rooms I was in, the way the light looks and the sounds around me. A son. A father of two boys. One living. Twice a husband. Once and still a widower. Though the meanings change with circumstance and situation. Though the names seem wrong. Junior, the suffix still hanging by his fingertips even though there is no Senior on this earth to testify to just how much you have to lose by living. So I curse/praise the way the mind can take me back to throw me forward. I didn’t get to hold my first son after he was born for almost half a day. He was blue as a bruise at birth. They had to get him going, they said. And took him away. I held Susan’s hand in the recovery room while she begged me take me to him, him to her. I don’t remember his little body in my hands that day. And I don’t know if that is the mind protecting itself from damage or damage from the accident. And now I have no idea where they went, though I have hopes. We are made

of accidents. And certain words or words in combinations that have never passed our lips or haven’t in years ‘til they emerge like the urge to sing and then you can’t stop saying them: effulgent, raconteur, fervid, groovy, gambol, galivant, Cyrus, Susan, lovely.  And it is. It really is

lovely, the spell they make, the groovy way they galivant and gambol ‘cross the page through air, coloring everything, altering the way I see and what. We are

made of perceiving. Fervid dreamers. Making up the story as we go. Don’t ask me

where the creek was or went or where to find it. You can’t recreate the first taste of an orange. Which is not just sunshine, bright and radiant, bursting in a mouth but the shock of it and the moment just before the peel, the seal is broken. Every orange after chases memory. But you can cup it in your hands and let it take you where it will. Linger on the snap, button, zipper, when everything is on the verge and you

are come undone.

JOEL PECKHAM has published nine collections of poetry and nonfiction, most recently Bone Music (SFAU), MUCH (UnCollected Press), Body Memory (New Rivers), and the spoken word LP, Still Running: Words and Music by Joel Peckham (EAT poems, available at all major streaming platforms). His new and selected poems, Any Moonwalker Can Tell You is forthcoming from SFA Press in the early summer of 2024. With Robert Vivian, he also co-edited the anthology, Wild Gods: The Ecstatic in Contemporary Poetry and Prose. He is an Associate Professor of American Literature and Creative Writing at Marshall University.

Read more by Joel Peckham

Poem in The Sun magazine
Interview and poems at Mud Season Review
Audio poems
Author’s Instagram
Writing at Kirkus Reviews