The man stood on a table in the town square.
Its base was cement and the table-top was etched
with the outline of a chessboard but no one had
played the game there for years, if ever. The grid
served as ghost for the faint hopes of the town
planner or parks department employee who had
briefly envisioned kindly old men playing chess—
or even checkers—in the park beneath a tree. But
no tree. Just hot sun and cold wind and poured
concrete benches too close to the base of the table
for a grown pair of knees. The man used the bench
as a step then placed both feet square on the table
and stood there, arms hanging at his sides, eyes
fixed on the dried and battered grass, stark naked.
There was nothing comic about this, there was nothing
performative. He just stood there, hands cupped
over his privates, with no sign and no explanation,
and we could read the lines that gravity had written
on his body with its downward-pulling pen, the fine
skin that wrinkled like tissue-paper in every joint,
how his under-color grew slate-grey after hours
in the cold. Why are you doing this?, someone
finally asked. A small knot of us had gathered—
dog-walkers, exercisers—and now the morning
sun disappeared and the day began to smell
of rain. He did not answer. We could see blue
veins mapping his breast-fat and a small raised
scar purpled like a lilac on his lower abdomen.
When the rain began, we stayed out there.
He shivered visibly as the cold rivulets tracked
the contours of his body, his thin hair plastered
his skull like wet grass, and our eyes could trace
their fingertips over the braille of his gooseflesh.
That was when we realized that he was never
coming down, that he would topple like a pillar
and be carried away, limbs angled like firewood,
his body finally finished with what it had to say.
One woman approached him then and said, Please.
Won’t you please come down? The words seemed
unnaturally loud, as if she had had to shout over
the rising applause of the rain. He said nothing.
His gaze remained fixed on nothing. He offered
us nothing as he shook and chattered with the cold
and we stood in silence and waited for him to fall.
Michael Bazzett is the author of You Must Remember This, which received the 2014 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, and The Interrogation (forthcoming October 2017). He is also the translator of The Popul Vuh, the first English verse translation of the Mayan creation epic, which is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions, and the chapbook Imaginary City (OW! Arts). His poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Ploughshares, The Sun, Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, and Best New Poets. A longtime faculty member at The Blake School, Bazzett has received the Bechtel Prize from Teachers & Writers Collaborative and is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. He lives in Minneapolis.