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July 14, 2016 Poetry

Morning Rituals

Todd Osborne

Morning Rituals photo

Based on a Line by Jessica Guzman

The Clay Aikens feared dying first, the thirst
that lack of spotlight yields. He started as a single
Clay Aiken, the one we all knew with the smiling face
and aw-shucks demeanor, but each day he woke
after coming in second on AI, a new Clay Aiken appeared
beside the last one until he had to rent an entire block
of apartments for all the Clay Aikens he was. He sent one
Clay Aiken to Broadway, one to Dancing with the Stars, another
ran for Congress, unsuccessfully. The Clay Aikens became a father,
grew their hair out, lived their life in peace. All this wanting
became a bore. The Clay Aikens settled down, let their dog out
each morning, smiled when Raleigh fetched the paper.
The Clay Aikens never see their face under headlines,
and this excites them. Somewhere, Ruben Studdard is alone,
crying. This, too, excites them. The neighbors
barely recognize them as The Clay Aikens anymore,
That’s just Clay, they say, and it’s true. The Clay Aikens
go to yoga at 6:15 every morning, punctual as Ryan Seacrest,
though perhaps not as well-groomed these days. In their lululemons,
the Clay Aikens appear average, their classmates point and say,
Clay Aikens, they’re just like us behind their hands 
and into their cellphones. The Clay Aikens go home,
search “Clay Aiken” on Twitter, check their Google Alerts.
The number of tweets about Clay Aiken is less than
the number of Clay Aikens, and Google is tired
of keeping up with the Clay Aikens. The first
Clay Aiken pulls out an old Philips VCR, watches the dust
dance as he blows on the small of its back and plugs
it into his flatscreen. From behind a portrait of himself,
he pulls a tape labeled “LORD OF RINGS RETURN OF KING”
and pushes it into the VCR’s mouth. The VCR gulps.
Clay hits the triangle, watches himself
sing Billy Joel, Elton John, The Beatles, Simon
and Garfunkel. In the stale air of his apartment,
Clay Aiken feels alive for a moment. The other Clay Aikens
fall silent. No pleas, no songs. When the tape regurgitates,
Clay forcefeeds the VCR again. When he wakes
the next morning, still by himself, he makes coffee for one,
and a muffin. He kisses his child on one of the soft spaces
where, someday soon, bones will grow. “Not yet,” he says.
“Not today.” At the door, the mailman hands Clay
Aiken an envelope that reads I blame you. xoxo R.S.
Next morning, there is a Clay Aiken in bed
with Clay Aiken and nothing to watch on TV.


image: Julian Vargas