Two Poems by Lisa K. Roberts

Husbands’ Brothers

You don’t notice them at first,
leaning against the back walls of his life,
now yours. You register the hair
on one who’s playing guitar: long, luxuriant.  
Collected in a casual ponytail. 
Who wouldn’t? But that detail
mixes with all the others. Sister’s dolls
(she’s thirty). Father’s scrappy
immigrant stories. Mother’s good calves and
surface reserve you go on to discover
runs bone deep. All the second-hand
furniture of marriage. The package deal.

One year, at a wedding reception,
your eye falls from a distance
on your husband beside one brother.
You glance from one to the other and note
the receding chin you’ve learned to love
corrected. Stooped shoulders 
you’d recognize anywhere, uncurl.
Erect and strange. Then your own blades
rise and flare. You flip from one
to the other: a time-lapsed blooming and
collapse. Thin arms you know so well
bulk up. And in place of the goofy
wisps you’ve gladly kissed,
oh god: all that hair.
Something in your stomach catches 
and unfurls. Then you want your
husband’s brother right there
on the buffet table. By the mini-wieners.

On an Easter visit, you start to think
it would be so easy to hold his gaze
a moment too long across the dinner
table—to prolong a hug
beats beyond. So easy some night
padding back from the bathroom
to slip invisible into the elsewhere he is
and down all that familiar difference.
Not cheating, really. Just moving                                       
a bit to the right on a sliding scale.
He is your husband already
in another dimension. The man
who stands before the fun house mirror.
His face, your husband’s, three steps off.
What’s been ragged, missing, askew, slanted 
takes on the symmetry of imagined 
second chances. Not
a cabana boy in Fiji. Your own life.
Just much better. The life you
could have lived, could still if …
you could undo this one. 

Thanksgiving. He’s up for
second helpings in the kitchen
and you spot what you’d missed:
the brother’s duck walk.  
Back at the table, you watch. He swats
away serious questions and praises
a yogi’s levitation. His wife’s sighs settle
on your side of the table. You look down:

your husband’s plate. The back of his hand
holding a knife. Stiff black hairs against
the shock of white. You feel the smooth cool
of his crescent calf within your palm. Like a breast. 
Not you. You. Not you. Still. Again! 
Moons and moons and moons ago
this man lay your faithless body down
on the hard, worn floor of an inner chamber.
You used to think you never would be happy.
You scoot up to the shabby laden table.  
You choose again, what you chose before.


Even the name sounded
dirty to us. Over cheese fries
at the bowling alley
and later in Julie’s den
between crunches of Doritos,
as if our mobile tongues
were performing cunnilingus
on our own mouths just
saying the word aloud.
Which we’d try a few times,
tongue lingering on the
un’s languorous rumble,
then lifting tip to flick
top palette, flash
of pink from wide 
stretched mouths,
cunni – LINNNNNNNNG – gus,
until we collapsed onto 
shag carpet in guffaws and 
pronounced our verdict
with o my gods and
a drawn out
scrunching our eyes and
mouths, shaking our heads,
hair swirling, the word being
too much like thing,
too much like inhabiting
our own bodies open
to pleasure, how could 
we come right out 
and name what we desire?


Born and raised in Michigan, Lisa K. Roberts has taught literature and composition in Hong Kong, Charlottesville, Virginia, Las Vegas, and Lincoln, Nebraska. After moving to Iowa City, she worked as Assistant Director of the Iowa Youth Writing Project to bring free creative writing workshops to children. Today she serves as Director of Iowa City Poetry, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to sharing poetry resources with writers of all ages, incomes, identities, and experience levels. Her poetry has been published in Plainsongs, The Untidy Season, Little Village, and she has been a featured spoken word performer at various venues, including Voice Box, Was the Word, NewBo PoJam, and Poetry in Motion.