All twelve inches of steel
ripping hot; Son stood on stool
front and center — boy feet
pittering excited, eyes platters
Be careful with him, my wife
calls from the dining room
unable to watch what tight-
rope walk I guide him over
Can I flippit? he asks immediately
after the batter hits the skillet
sizzle sizzle shaking the spatula’s
business end in his/my tiny mitt
We have to wait for bubbles, I say
as the lumpy near-mastic spreads
slowly across the hot surface, so
we just stand here until the time comes.
Okay, he says. The boy’s balance
falters, his arms arc circular, tools crash onto
the counter. His fingers, miniatures of mine,
grasp the edge of the Belgique, white-fingered
for this sick, over-long moment where
I can predict everything that’s about to happen
with full accuracy: that first dismayed noise will bring
Mom in a panic to her/our/my boy,
cold water, screams, the rest of the night
explaining the nature of burn recovery to a three-
year-old and what remedial parenting lessons I’ll
learn from these fourteen Mickey Mouse pancakes
I’ll guiltily assemble.
I shouldn’t have:
engaged in Marvel Cinematic Universe-driven flirting,
run my fingers over the novel curves of her hand,
or allowed her to explore my flat knuckles in concert.
I shouldn’t have walked her to her car, nor should I have
told her I was looking forward to hearing from her.
I should not have read or even answered her text messages while I was driving
home. I shouldn’t have responded while the police officer
steadied his cruiser behind me on the highway, and I shouldn’t have been going
85 in a 65.
I shouldn’t have lied about whether I was drinking and I shouldn’t
have continued driving home after the cop only gave me a speeding ticket.
I shouldn’t have sat in the driveway and texted back and forth with her
until I passed out in the driver’s seat, car still running at 2:30 in the
morning, or left the ticket in the passenger seat. I shouldn’t have snuck
into the house, brushed my teeth, and lied that it was only 12 when I laid
down in bed. I shouldn’t have thought about the way a smile washes over
her face while my wife’s exhausted hand rests on my hip, welcoming me home
with lullabye strokes, happy to see me even in its calm unconsciousness.
This has to be the farthest anyone could possibly be from dry
land; I wonder whether I should try to swim back.