With stealthy success, poison ivy seduced
my friend’s ankle while he scouted
duck at wetland’s edge. This wasn’t the first time
the plant latched onto him – but washing his leg
with cool water and fury had always proved the cure.
This time it loiters. The green violence,
the three leaves with their subtle
side ridges, secreted oils and scalded
his canvas. He secures a bandage
over ankle and calf before work, an ambitious
gladiator boot, a war with his own skin.
At least his battle will deplete before grave.
Mosquito bites, he’d assumed, when he woke
the first morning to scratch,
accidentally irritating the site and coaxing
infection and pus. Certain the rash would fade,
he denied the red patches, but they only darkened
into identity. And maybe at first he was in the clear,
but the oils invaded his bed sheets, and dreams
are merely a return to the scene of the crime. Dead
white blood cells embrace his pant leg until
they seep through with the excess collecting
at his sock. After our shift, he tells me how ugly
they are, the angry blotches, the repulsive flat fires
making part of him unrecognizable. We all know
the heartbeat of ghastly marks from beneath
a bandage, and so he shows me what keeps him
up at night, and we bond over the straw color
rising from the swell, taming the contagion
with all its might. His body conquers
what the mind cannot and pastes over pain,
forgives after each return from the woods.
John Muellner is a gay poet living in suburban Minnesota, currently in the thick of attaining his MA from the University of St. Thomas. His work can also be read, or will soon be read, online in, Indicia, Gertrude Press, and River River.