Tang of ammonia, the yellow bins outside our apartment.

Fetor of urine, cardboard sheets in an abandoned doorway.

The girl who brushes past us in the cathedral,

sweat, cologne, and the sweet remains of her night

lying in her lover’s arms.


Didn’t the men who toiled to erect this cathedral,

laying stone on stone,

understand that stone is but hardened muck?

Foolish petitioners, standing before eternity’s bolted doors,

the soil from which we have been fashioned

hard-caked under our nails.

No, for us awaits no heaven,

no chaste and shitless Elysium.


Better to return to the stews of grimed clothes

we leave about our rented rooms,

clothes we faithfully launder,

and faithfully foul again,

sinks of dishes we faithfully scrub

and faithfully dirty again.


Rising from my dinner,

this warm Madrid night,

I go to lie in my lover’s arms,

my hands smelling of roast flesh and oil,

of lemon, butter, and basil.


Robert McKean

Robert McKean’s novel, Mending What is Broken (Livingston Press, 2023), has received coverage from Kirkus Review, Largehearted Boy, KRCB, Author2Author, and more. His short story collection I’ll Be Here for You: Diary of a Town was awarded first prize in the Tartts First Fiction competition (Livingston Press). His novel The Catalog of Crooked Thoughts was awarded first-prize in the Methodist University Longleaf Press Novel Contest and declared a Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Recipient of a Massachusetts Artist’s Grant, McKean has had six stories nominated for Pushcart Prizes. His website is www.robmckean.com.

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