Jess Williard

A Private Experience

The thing is: I thought I was kind of in love with a friend

                 who I actually only liked

and only liked when I wasn’t a foreigner. There are bakeries everywhere in Madrid

         but I traded my regal little coins for doughnuts

                                                 in packages and for getting drunk

               by myself in a cafe on one of the infinite, slick-floored plazas

adjacent to a movie theater


                 where I watched Jake Gyllenhaal live out a sexual vendetta

         against himself twice in the same day

and then again later that week. The thing is: I did it again.

         I fell asleep too early in a buzz

of strangered shame and sugar ache. How unlike you. My teeth grew that summer.

                         They grew through my cheeks and wrapped

         walrus-style around the outside of my jaw. For English. For Spanish.

                 For anyone I would try to spell into being interested. For giving up

so half-heartedly, each failure without even the luster of a failure,

         and reading that same ex-pat novel

on a park bench in a poor and rather beautiful neighborhood

                                 I will never again be able to stumble into.


                                                            This can’t be about privilege.

I invented everything. I chewed my own face

         into leather for a pink slip and a plane ticket.

                                        What is a private experience of an experience?  

If I found it in that library after wandering thirsty for two hours through El Retiro

         then I don’t want to know. I couldn’t understand either side

of any page in the bilingual Walcott

         I spotted and lugged to a couch in the corner. I couldn’t care

                         even though I couldn’t stop feeling.


Better: If you fill your ears with headphones to listen to the same song

                                                                 playing outside of them

                         does it sound any different? Do they rise

         in cacophony and nod together? This can’t be figurative. I need to know.

This can’t be about trouble—I invented that, too. To the people who work

         without asking to be looked at:

only you are allowed in here.

                 Only you with your perfectly proportioned teeth.

I hope that if you are lucky enough to catch

         your reflection twice in the same day, you smile at least as hard the second time

or turn around and try it again.

                                                         I hope you punch and process

any bit of resentment you have into a sterling promise,

         a casting from every ancient corner of any city into the wanting sky.

I hope you have the tools to measure what you earn.



Some things are given to the impossible: politics,

for one, if your separatist leanings are bent


on loneliness. Or on leaving for leaving’s sake,

a brokenhearted cloy towards learning.


The vendor doesn’t learn, each Sunday wheeling

his cart of books and fruit to the mossy perimeter


of the park. Each Sunday smiling like it’s something

new. Staying where he is, for the most part.


Sometimes things are given to us that are impossible

to turn into something bad. Jet contrails are so much


better when it’s cold outside; the sheen tank of lake

water at the center of this city can be walked around


as many times as necessary to get lost. The politics

part was a mistake from the get-go. Sometimes a gift


means getting something taken away: a person, a sense.

Blood that finally bodes to belonging. It’s strange


what different minds need—a place to put the body

being the hardest one to shake. The vendor doesn’t need


to shake. The vendor will come out regardless.

Look at him there, arranging fruit on top of the books.


An order so meant in those stayed and capable hands.

Look at the fruit lined up: luminous, inconsolably alive.


Jess Williard’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Orleans Review, The McNeese Review, Nashville Review, Cider Press Review, Adirondack Review, Oxford Poetry and others. He is from Wisconsin.