When I mention a crush I have on some boy I’ll forget
in three weeks’ time
or never, call it love,

Scuba, my closest friend, rolls his eyes, shoots back
Did you pee on him so he’s marked as yours?
I like to think you won’t understand.

It’s a way of separating out
what’s mine as distinct from what’s not;
how we—he and I, I mean

not you, reader—
about claiming territory, our friendship, love.

It’s about having and holding
what’s mine.
We joke

because laughing hollows us out
clean again
and jokes past a certain age become rituals

holding the rest together.
Sometimes I feel like Pee-wee Herman and the fruit salad—
married to everything I love

but then I get the powerful urge to delete
everything I have,
every conversation, every trace,

sharing is impossible,
I’m already bereft.
I’m not sure

if this makes me selfish.
If being territorial
is a version of selfishness. But Scuba, make that joke

about the time I was on fire,
I’m not sure I’ll ever get enough

It’s hard—
to explain, reader—the joke in this

isn’t really so funny.
For no reason, sometimes
I just burst into tears.

I’m not really joking.
Don’t make me pee on you—
a punk way to ask,

don’t we belong to each other?
To say,
stay with me.

To say, love
is gross. It’s
such a vulgar thing.




Elizabeth O’Brien is the author of A Secret History of World Wide Outage. Her work—poetry and prose—has appeared in Wigleaf, New England Review, The Rumpus, Diagram, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets 2016, and elsewhere. 

“Joke” appears in TLR: Granary.