The Boiler

Alysse Kathleen McCanna


That summer, I stood naked in front of the window air conditioner,
all shame of my awkward body slicked away like so many drops of sweat.
The blue carpet of our first apartment was rough but I loved the lines it left
on my husband’s thighs, and I loved drinking beer and holding the glass
against my cheek, then his. I cradled young visions of joy in the offing,
before he went off to war and stayed, before armies took their stand
inside me.

After the divorce, I stood before hotel room windows and surveyed
each new city’s distorted lights, the air conditioner’s steady stream
against my knees. The man I’d chosen instead sometimes combed
and braided my hair, sometimes pressed me against the glass.
His temper was tropical but I loved the lines it left
on my back, and I loved taking the grief of his ravaged life
and holding it against my cheek. I harbored hope thin and strong
as spiderweb, before he went off to another’s bed and stayed,
before my armies laid down their weapons,

This summer,
August seems just so much feverish tenderness,
a suspicious hallucination full of eyelashes and fingertips,
this large night impersonating oven as I lie on sweat-soaked sheets
and feel alive on an ocean, surprised that I’m awake and the man
beside me brings ice and wildflowers, so much true and undeserved
sweetness, and I take it—drink like a starving convict, as fast
as I can bear, in case it runs dry.


Lying in the hotel bed, I form faces out of the ceiling’s imperfections.
His face I know by heart, nose wide and flat, small chip
in the front tooth, parallel scars on the left cheekbone.

We order room service: steak, fruit, wine. We are good
at pretending. He tests my poker face, blows smoke.
I have been practicing in front of the mirror.

At the table, I watch the cowboy. I forget the dream
of the farm, the children lined up by height for a photo
I’ll never take. I arrange my chips by color, laugh loud

with my head back, teeth bared. Knock-off Christmas music
begins its slow death march over the casino speakers.
We drift through smoke, share a bed as easily as a cigarette.

Out the window, I watch the traffic. I forget the dream
of growing old, the wrap-around porch. Tomorrow,
he will travel to a new lover’s bed, and I will drive

across the country to my empty house, a road I know
by heart. He doesn’t know I stole his penny, horseshoe, clover—
the good luck right from his pocket. He doesn’t know

I’ll fold first, my heart too raw to hold another
failed home, another fallen husband.
I’ll never show my cards.

Alysse Kathleen McCanna is currently pursuing her PhD in English at Oklahoma State University. She is Associate Editor of Pilgrimage Magazine and received her MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College in 2015. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from, Lunch Ticket, Barrow Street, The Boiler, Boulevard, Midwestern Gothic, and other journals. She lives in Stillwater, OK, where she and her husband bask in the heat of the prairie and tend to their growing menagerie