In Champaign, Illinois

Up the stairs coiled around the hotel
my new friend Frank and I are
lamenting that there is no
gym after all—he lamenting—
I going along—at my door I half
stick the key in, he asks again about how
to iron his pants, I have these pants with
a crease—he uses his hand
to saw the air between us
So I’m kind of tired flash a smile, nod
jetlag ha-ha- but I can just tell you how
it’s really self-explanatory or youtube
is the best teacher on and on, until
ok good night and I go in
and make the curtains meet. 

Tomorrow he tells me he is on 9 p.m.
curfew for his first special-approved trip
from home, six weeks out from being
locked up, and when he first ate
strawberries after twenty years he cried.

In the night, beyond the curtains, he touches
all the things in his hotel room, cold
sink, coated hangers, blade of the blinds,
grabs his keys and hops in his rental, pulls
into the gas station. The moon wide-faced
in the sun-damaged sky, the smell of gas, vibrations
through his palms, his black footsteps inking the black
night, many directions pointing from him like arrows.

I wish I had been out there with him, and the night
opening, the taste of the strawberry, the feel of the mouth,
I could have offered more of what coming home had
to offer, I should have taken what the night
swallowed, cupped his heels in his inky footsteps.
Take the freedom, I’m here, look
around, night all around, for the taking.


You Li is a law student and poet who lives in New York. Her work has appeared in the Nassau Literary Review and Two Cities Review. She has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.