John A. Nieves


In the shy few inches that the radiator falls
just short of the corner, something like an ancient
shred of wallpaper peeked from behind

the baseboard. I reached for it because it was
summer, because it made no sense against the wall’s
matte face. Of course, the unmodest corner

of the thing thinned to dust, worked its way
into the grooves of my fingertips. With a toothpick,
I fished the rest out: a faded and eaten remnant.

The front suffered the worst, I was almost certain
there had once been a field or prairie
there, but it easily could have been

the ocean. The reverse: a brief note in faded
pencil. Only handle, wait, and embrace
had enough word left to be

words—though just above your signature, lurked
a smudge too long to be love. Since it didn’t end
in y and was only one word, I can

venture no guess except that it was less
easy than just signing off, some proper prelude
to the thing that did not fade,

the imprint of your lips
below. But what I couldn’t turn
away from was the white amidst

all that red: the little emptiness that defied
archaeology. Your voice, your breath,
the part of you that made a lip print

a kiss, the part of you that only the hand
that dropped this could have gleaned
from so short a scribbling in so small a space.




John A. Nieves’ poems appear in journals such as: Beloit Poetry Journal, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Cream City Review.  He won the Indiana Review Poetry and is a Pushcart nominee.  His first book, Curio, won the Elixir Press Prize, out 2014.  He is Assistant Professor of English at Salisbury University.