The most perfect thing I’d ever made,
he wore my smile with a candor
I could never muster,
stretched it like the neck hole of a favorite sweater
as he gave a hearty thumbs up
to an old drunk roaming the cluttered aisles
of a discount department store.
I named my selfie Mike.
No matter the occasion
Mike seemed caught mid-guffaw,
lips pulled back from teeth
like wax plied apart by a flame.
Whether being sung to or burped,
fed scrambled eggs to the propeller sounds
of vibrating lips,
or getting his mouth rinsed with soap,
his smile never dimmed;
I believe it masked deep neuroses.
I couldn’t resist taunting him,
telling bad knock-knock jokes
or propping him in his high chair
for a Jeff Dunham standup special
and, finding his expression unchanged,
saying, “what’s wrong with you?
That wasn’t funny.”
One day, as I read aloud online reviews of Michael Bay movies,
I saw a strain in his cheeks,
a wilt in the corner of his lips.
It seems he’d been forcing his smile all along.
Looking closer, I noticed he was alone;
the old man had wandered away,
leaving shadows and puddles, a scavenging cat
that made Mike sneeze.
Something about the look on his face—
maybe the eyes, gawking for weeks from their frames—
suggested his smile was meant for me,
a weight he carried as he watched
my haggles in the land of the living.
His eyes held my reflection all the while—
thin but sturdy, like a toothpick
propping the eyelids open.