We called her God because she wrote a poem about how Caleb Newton ejaculated prematurely the night she slept with him, and because she shared the poem with her friends.
Caleb was the president of our fraternity. When he worked our booth in the dining hall he fund-raised a hundred dollars in an hour. He had the plaintive eyes and button nose of a child in a life-insurance commercial, the carriage of an armored soldier. He was not the most massive brother, but he was the most a man, the one who neither played video games nor rejoiced at videos in which people were injured. His inclination to help other brothers write papers and refine workouts bespoke a capacity for fatherhood. I had seen his genitals, in the locker room after lacrosse, and they reminded me of a Volvo sedan in that they were unspectacular but shaped so as to imply solidity and soundness. One morning when we were all writhing on the couches, hungover, he emerged from the bathroom in a towel, attended by a cloud of steam. We agreed that the sight of his body alleviated our symptoms.
“If you use a towel right after Newton uses it, your life expectancy is extended ten years,” said Stacks Animal.
“If a man kisses Newton, he’ll turn into a beautiful woman,” I said, and everyone stared at me, because it was a too-imaginative joke.
But Newton threw his head back and laughed. “You guys are fucking funny,” he said. “That’s why I don’t feel hungover anymore.”
The putative reasons we named him Nutella were that it sounded like Newton and that he was sweet. But I wondered if it was really because when you tasted Nutella you were there. You were not looking at yourself from afar.
Nutella was never angry. When we discovered the poem and declared its author God, we knew he wouldn’t object. He understood that it was a compliment to him as much as to the poet. To make Nutella lose at something, to deprive Nutella of control, God was what you had to be.
We learned of the poem’s existence from Shmashcock’s girlfriend, who was roommates with Melanie. (That was God’s real name.) She told Shmash what the poem was about, and when she went to the bathroom he took a picture of it, and though it was untitled, he mass-texted it to us with the caption “On the Premature Ejaculation of Current Delta Zeta Chi Chapter President Caleb Newton.”
It was the only poem I’d ever liked that didn’t rhyme. I read it so many times that I memorized it by accident.
Who is this soldier who did not hold his fire
When the whites of my eyes were shrouded
In fluttering eyelids?
I thought I knew you
Knew you were the steady hand on the wheel
The prow itself
But what kind of captain are you?
Scared sailor with your hand on your mast
ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼Betrayed by your own body
As we are all betrayed
On your knees
Begging my forgiveness
With the muscles of a demon
And the whites of your eyes
As white as a child’s?
Behind the counter at D’Angelo’s/Pizza Hut, I whispered, “Muscles of a demon / And the whites of your eyes / As white as a child’s” for twenty minutes because it was the perfect description of Nutella. It was as if somebody had snapped a photo of him and enlarged it until it was the very wallpaper of my mind. I loved Melanie for writing it. I also felt I was her secret collaborator, for in my head I was contributing lines. I added:
Whose hands are these?
One moment swift as a gray river
The next as still as stones
Because that was another thing about Nutella. He was a war elephant on the lacrosse field and yet capable of quietude and stillness, reading econ on the porch, his phone facedown on his knee, casting light on his groin when he received a text.
To read the rest of this piece, purchase the issue.
Dan Chiasson, Bicentennial
Durs Grünbein, Peacocks on Broadway
Maureen N. McLane, As I Was Saying, the Sun
Rowan Ricardo Phillips, The Mind After Everything Has Happened
Jana Prikryl, “A Place as Good as Any”
Frederick Seidel, Widening Income Inequality
Charles Simic, Thus
Charles Simic, The Bamboo Garden
Charles Simic, About Myself
Luigia Sorrentino, “even higher…”
Craig Morgan Teicher, Why Poetry: A Partial Autobiography