Photo of

William Baker’s short fiction is published a number of times since 2013. He thrives and lives a positive and purposeful life in Yeshua, in Indiana.

He is currently working on numerous short stories, a stage play and a novel. He is an amateur photographer, gardener, actor in community theater and has a large family for which he is continually grateful.


Trigger Warning

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed–see here it is–
I hold it towards you. John Keats – 1819

I shut the book. Maybe it’s about dying but I can’t tell. It is 1979, summer term Jefferson College Indiana, and I will look like a fool when the prof calls on me. Summer term means year round school and no shuffling around Dayton, Ohio between step-families. Those people have no objection to the time, distance, or expense of my education. 

Summer term means Jefferson College is even smaller. In this dorm I know Poe and Garner, two footballers on the brink of flunking out. Across the hall is a guy, Carlo Rossi, I don’t know him but he is in this same summer literature class, where the prof has assigned us each a poem to discuss. I will go to the library hoping to find help but will shower first in the dorm community bathrooms. I crack my door and listen but hear nothing. Good, Poe and Garner always horse around, I don’t want that. I don a towel and enter the bath to see the Rossi guy at a sink looking in the mirror. I say hey on the way past, he says nothing. 

There are two shower heads impossibly close together, another reason I wait for traffic to clear. I hang my towel and flip the water on, waiting for it to warm when I hear something behind me and turn.

“You got Keats, right?” Rossi challenges, I jump out of my skin. He hangs his towel and is only inches away.

“What?” I shrink back.

“John Keats This Living Hand, great poem. I wish I had Keats, but I have Edmund Spenser’s My Love is Like to Ice.”

Rossi is a dark, impassioned guy who talks in a brief, challenging way and moves in short, determined motions. He has nicked himself shaving and blood drips from his chin and down his front, where I am happy not to look. It drips on the big wooden cross he always wears. I would find that interesting if we were clothed. 

Without turning he slams on the shower and steps under, staring with piercing black eyes. He starts lathering fiercely. “Keats! … see here it is– I hold it towards you.” He thrusts an open hand of suds my direction. He knows my poem when he doesn’t have to. 

“Uh, yeah.” I mumble and shut down the shower.

Carlo turns off his water and faces me, he is in front of the towels, and I will have to move him to get there. I stand dripping, and he is fully lathered, including the cross and… everything else.  I gulp and stare at my feet.

“Edmund Spenser!” He says.

“My love is like to ice, and I to fire;
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolv’d through my so hot desire,
But harder grows the more I her entreat?” He says. “Racy stuff for 1595, Huh?”

I am not thinking about Spenser and Keats, I am thinking about Poe and Garner and what they will say if they show. They already call him Crazy Christian Carlo.

He steps closer, and I swallow hard. “But Keats, man, Keats. Is it about death like everyone says? You probably already figured out that maybe it is something else too.” No I haven’t figured anything and I would love to hear his thoughts… after pants. He continues by laying a finger on my chest and tapping; I flinch. If anyone comes in, all they will remember is two dudes touching in the shower; I will have to change schools. “You ever held out a hand to someone who is supposed to love you and not know for sure what will happen? Will they take it or will it grow cold with rejection?” He steps back abruptly and jerks the shower handle. “There you are!”

I grab my towel, dry quickly while Rossi stands with his back to the water, eyes closed and mouth moving. I should say something. “Thanks, man.” I manage; his eyes remain closed. I hurry out and hear the water bang shut behind me. 

My door is locked because Poe and Garner like to hole up in rooms and jump on you when you enter. I prefer to not get jumped wearing only a towel. I fumble with keys and throwing my shower supplies on the dresser, reach behind to shut the door and encounter bare skin. I yell and whirl around face to face with Carlo. I think our eyeballs touch, but he does not notice. I shut the door.

Carlo stands naked in my room, wearing the big wooden cross, towel in hand, feet shoulder length apart, dripping water on the floor. He stares into my face with his achromatic daggers and pats himself with the towel. He continues.

“Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
Is not delay’d by her heart-frozen cold;” 

I guess he quotes the Spenser poem as that is not in the Keats thing; either way it is a nude dude standing in my room talking about exceeding heat and transfixing me with his eyes. He never stops looking into my face, it’s unnerving. I reach around him, shiver when we touch, and lock the door. 

He continues. “You would think straightforward, right? Listen to this. 

But that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
And feel my flames augmented manifold?
What more miraculous thing may be told,
That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice,
And ice, which is congeal’d with senseless cold,
Should kindle fire by wonderful device?
Such is the power of love in gentle mind,
That it can alter all the course of kind.”

He continues. “He’s hot with love and desire and she is cold towards him. But maybe not, maybe this is about the power of love to change even the laws of nature. What do you think?” He continues patting himself.

I am wishing he would talk about hot desire after we dress, but I answer honestly. “I’ve only worked on the Keats, I’m having trouble with it. Poems are not my thing.”

He gives a puzzled look; it has not occurred to him that poetry isn’t someone’s thing. “I’m having trouble too, with Spenser I mean. Like this part: 

What more miraculous thing may be told,
That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice;
And ice, which is congeal’d with senseless cold,
Should kindle fire by wonderful device?

Is his fire of passion driving her away? I’m not sure.”

I don’t know why I say it, maybe prompted by something he already mentioned but I get a sort of discovery and, standing there in a towel with this guy hanging loose, I blurt it out. “Why is only the fire passionate? Maybe ice can be passionate, and their passion is like stoking one another, making their love even more, you know… more.” I end lame because I have zero experience in the directions of love.

“Hey, Hey!” He exclaims. “I think you’re onto something.” He analyzes Spenser again only this time I have a few meager additions which he listens to. I dress in front of him, he does not notice as he bunches the towel in one hand, gestures with it, and we talk. Thankfully at last he puts the towel around his waist and stands, hands on hips. “Thanks Parker. Poetry not your thing? Yeah right. We are going to nail that class tomorrow.”

“You maybe.” I respond.

He brightens. “I’m sorry, man. You are having trouble with Keats, and here I only talk my thing. He throws his arms wide. “Let’s do Keats!” 

I laugh. He is not Crazy Carlo. I say, “Let’s go to the coffee shop with our books.” 

“Yeah, let’s.” He stops for a second, stares, then steps to me. My heart drops in panic but something else happens. How do I say it? He embraces me. Not the sensual hug I feared, or a dutiful shoulder squeeze thing like in Ohio, or a sports bear hug, but a real embrace. I don’t know what to do, but it lasts, and when he steps back my face is wet. I wipe at it, and it won’t stop. He touches my arm. “I’ve upset you. I’m sorry; we do that at home. We are Jesus people and Italian, always real, you know, touchy.” He says.

“No. It’s alright.” I grab him and hold on, and I don’t know but I am something like relieved, lightened. We laugh. He steps back.

“Coffee. Don’t forget your book.” He hustles out.

We are not in the coffee shop but a few minutes when two girls from class enter and sit with us. Carlo also knows the poems assigned to them and we spend the afternoon. 

There are understandings and discoveries.

“Here’s the mail, Grandpa.” My grandson drops a letter in my hand and runs to the kitchen where my wife is making over the children and handing out goodies. I watch her a moment.

I look at the letter again. The envelope is from Indiana University Department of English. It is from my friend; in this day of electronics, he still sends mail.

Dear Parker,

We hope this finds you both well. It is long since we have seen one another. I am writing to let you know we are attending the Jefferson College alumni reunion and hope you are there also. We should not let so much time come between us, we are too old for it. 

Love to you both,


P.S. Do you recall the times in the coffee shop talking Keats?

I remember. I remember the poetry of a hand held out that did not grow cold. 

Never distant.
In loss
and gain.
of a summer afternoon.

2 thoughts on “The Course of Kind

Leave a Reply