My older brother and his best friend Kevin
often played catch in the backyard on weekends

The sound of the ball as it found their mitts
was like listening to my favorite song on repeat

We all had nicknames – Kevin was Kiki,
my brother was Lefty, and I was Li’l Lefty

On one occasion, the phone rang indoors
and my brother darted inside to retrieve it

“Come on, Li’l Lefty,” Kiki called out
as I ran to assume the place of my brother

Kiki and I tossed the ball for a while
while he asked after my schooling and interests

“And how are the girls?” he inquired at last
to which I blushed, mumbling a reply

“I will tell you,” said Kiki, “of all you must know
when it comes to matters of women

“All you need to remember,” he said
“can be held in a single word: Garnish”

The syllables hung like a koan in the air
We listened as monks do after the bell

We continued to toss the baseball in silence
water poured onto the seed of the lesson

By the Fall they were gone, both off to college
Many years later, I did the same

fumbling and failing in intimate matters
forgetting the wisdom that Kiki had given

I behaved like in line for a fast-food drive-thru
and did not yet know what it meant to go slow

My twenties weren’t better, I still was too selfish
‘When do we eat’ was my governing sun

In fact only now, with twenty years’ practice,
have I finally learned to prepare and present

The other evening, while readying for bed,
I dabbed my finger with sandalwood scent

The littlest finger – and just on one side
of my neck did I dollop the odor’d oil

I crawled into bed and leaned up against her
“You smell like shop class,” she said, and we laughed

But later her nose kept finding my neck

“I like this,” she whispered
Garnish, I thought

What are you looking for?