Good Guys and Bad Guys

by Lesley Wheeler

The cook read Asterix in a brothel
          when he was five. The white man beside
him once coasted off with the gas money,
          tripped over cops on his porch. “I don’t look
like a thief,” he protests with Midwestern
          mildness, while a baby gnaws his beefy
shoulder and his canines glitter. Another
          scoundrel, drinking Scotch, describes knocking out
a girlfriend with an elbow to the temple
          during an Asia show. Women spit rice
and beg for dirt. The cook’s tales of sailors
          and their babysitting habits spark off
screams through the haze of wine and endorphins.
          In the basement, someone’s son defends
a girl from bad guys with a rifle built from
          tinker toys. The men grow wistful over
mango sorbet, deplore the war we should
          not have launched. Asterix the Gaul lurches
to bed with sauce in his mustache. Women
          clear dishes and jingle their keys while
some good guys search for shoes and hoist screaming
          kids onto their backs and into the dark.

LESLEY WHEELER’s forthcoming books are the poetry collection The State She’s In, the novel Unbecoming, and the essay collection Poetry’s Possible Worlds; previous poetry books are Radioland and the chapbook Propagation. Her work appears in Ecotone, Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, and other magazines. Poetry Editor of Shenandoah, she lives in Virginia.