Justin Bigos

Three Rooftops  

It happens on rooftops: the jump, the cut, the kiss smack between the stripper’s

breasts, your lover holding her lips right there, watching you watch.


October, 2001, Chinatown highrise apartment building, flags of restaurants and America

whipping below, before the sordid and banal became photographed


on phones, dilated cyclopean eyes, sent to other eyes across the globe, across the room,

the rooftop. Now she’s dancing with some guy, some dude, tall and lanky like you


but embarrassingly determined. You like watching this, knowing you’re the only one who gets

to take her to bed, 3 a.m. or 5:49 a.m., cab up to Amsterdam and 106th,


the stumbling up the stairs, fumbling with the keys, the jeans, shoulders and tongues

loosening, and while she grins and shakes her ass for this dude


you remember the question Gina from Indiana just asked: How long have you lived here?

She is soap-commercial pretty and she’s tweezed


the shit out of her eyebrows, and so you think of Ingrid Bergman in Vertigo,

and how her stunt double fell down all those stairs to a cold


cushion in Hollywood. And your lover, years ago in Rome, a teenager fooling around

with a semi-pro soccer player, Marco or Fabrizio, the most beautiful legs


she’d ever seen, and you wonder how any woman could French kiss a grown man

wearing shorts. But, of course, he goes for her tits, he’s Italian


and wearing a crucifix and then he sees it: the mezuzah hanging on a chain

from her neck. She’s told you what happens next: the street below rushing


toward her, thinking she would die as he held her over the edge of the rooftop

and called her Jew, the word itself a slur, and how he made one slow incision


in her chest with the pendant. Rome, which gave us a colosseum built by twenty thousand

Jewish slaves, ossobuco, gelato, and the ghetto.


She’s dancing now with her friend J., and you’ve always liked to watch two female friends

dance, the undeniable flirting, the mirrored affection,


how they never take their eyes off each other. All in the eyes. Remember? Pittsburgh,

the 1990s, two men in the corner of an overcrowded drug party,


both coked up and one leaning in and asking the other if he wants to do some E, and maybe

get blown? The eyes: tired, begging. The other eyes: I’m sorry.


And so a few hazy moments later, while a man and woman sit and share a first kiss

on a drizzly rooftop, the jilted man who did take E walks out to


the edge and steps off. The couple sees it from the corner of half-lidded eyes.

They had just figured out something about each other


and now the ambulance lights and the young man’s friend, look at the eyes, he’s in love,

saying how many fingers, what year is it, saying who’s the president


name your favorite movie just keep your eyes open, crying over his bloody friend.

Who lives, it turns out, and suffers not a single broken bone,


his body deliciously slack from the drugs. You could tell Gina this story,

say something like, Passing out half-dressed with a friend you’ve fucked


for the first time after some kid jumps off a roof is the crowning achievement

of Western Civilization, but you say, Just a few months.


She wants to say something about September 11, but doesn’t. The eyes: intelligent,

confused. Gina from Indiana could take you to some all-night


dim sum joint and toy purposefully with an earring, but it wasn’t Ingrid Bergman,

was it? It was Kim Novak. With eyes like your lover’s,


though hazel instead of blue, an impostor, hiding at the top of the bell tower

while her evil lover pushed the body of his dead wife


from one of the tower’s windows. No rooftop to speak of,  just a room at the top

with a church bell. Then the nun ringing it after Novak


does, in the end, fall. The dude and your lover, your best friend, are at it again,

and her eyes tell you, I’m so bored, okay, you win, and I win


too, take me home. No shenanigans in the cab, just her head on your shoulder,

clichéd and comfortable. The taxi ferries you up the island, block after block


of bright and empty windows. She falls asleep. Then wakes, eyes closed,

her muskmelon breath whispering your common, forgettable name.


Justin Bigos has published poems in New England Review, Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, The Collagist, The Gettysburg Review, and other magazines. With Kyle McCord, he co-directs the Kraken Reading Series, based in Denton, Texas. bio-Bigos