My first coherent memory was made
the Saturday our home exploded, when
a water heater blew (or so it went)
while Mom had walked me down the lane to play
in Daddy’s workshop. There, we lived for years,
but never called home. Daddy hid us there—
no phone, no guests, no parties filled the air,
and kindergarten brought some cause for fear.
“If friends invite you after school to play
at their place,” Mama said, “just tell them no
but thank them for the offer. Don’t say why,
though. You know things just have to be this way.”
And in her tone, an urgent need—“So please,
dear, when they ask about our…house…just lie.”
Dear, when they ask about our house, just lie
about the tin roof and the single room
we’ve finished. Say your father works at home,
and privacy is utmost in his mind.
A child accepts his lines because he’s told
it’s for the best. But secretly believes,
deep down, it could be far worse. Snow falls deep
that winter. Heaters glow. He isn’t cold
or hungry. He makes angels in the snow
beside the lake, almost as if to thank
someone who says “I try. My God, I try,
so give me strength.” His angels melted, though,
in quiet desperation on the bank
beside the lake. My father taught me why.
Beside the lake, my father taught me why
the copperheads would nest beneath the boat,
how cattails, crushed, send clouds of seeds afloat
into the sky. How swiftly slaps could fly
because (he said) the time had come, that day,
to swim and I refused to take the leap
beneath the waters. I could sense the deep
dark serpents drawing curves in search of prey.
The scent of algae, honeysuckle, sweat
and whiskey filled the silence, then, between
apologies half-meant, half-slurred, halfway
between the strokes of oars and his regret.
Alone, returning to the lake unseen,
I thought that I might swim the shame away.
I thought that I might swim the shame away
that day at Daddy Pete and Granny’s place.
Their neighbors had a pool, two kids my age
who let me swim. They laughed and called me gay
because I said that Aquaman was cool
instead of G.I. Joe, I guess. “What’s gay?”
I asked, not knowing then, but in a way
suspecting: something undesirable.
Recoiling from their taunts, instead, I swam
the creek which ran through bottoms past our farm:
dichotomy of solitude, but then,
I love a good juxtaposition. Am
I wrong? Does every retreat cause harm?
A creek might be a wonderland…but when?
A creek might be a wonderland, but when
the water’s ice cold, you just might contract
a case of hypothermia. You act
so nonchalant, teeth chattering, and then
it hits you: this is how the world is: snow
in winter, colors bursting in the fall
as trees give up their leaves. And right now, all
you pray for is the heater’s fan to blow.
A skinny dip into cold waters, fun!
Admission never costs a single dime,
but there’s a cost exacted, isn’t there,
for swimming here before the season’s done?
The heater in Dad’s truck is taking time.
Impatience simmers underneath my glare.
Impatience simmers underneath my glare
After the tenth time that I take a spill
full throttle, headlong down the gravel hill
without my training wheels, and on a dare
that costs me stitches on my shins. Who knew
the learning curve could be so bloody steep?
I never cared to look before my leaps,
rejecting wisdom: something children do
and then regret, as scars form jagged lines
across the skin, the memories. Our souls
deflate each time an impact knocks the air
from lungs, still learning when we must resign
or seek the counsel older people hold.
Forever I will wonder. Was it fair?
Forever I will wonder, was it fair?
I went to check, that icy day, before
The cartoons started. Self-appointed chore,
And with a flashlight, found them under there:
A mother cat and kittens, six, born deep
beneath the crawlspace sometime in the night.
The pipes had burst, then froze, and at first sight
their stillness chilled me. Silence. Death. With haste,
my parents tried to warm them in the sink,
but nothing coaxed their stiffened bodies back
to breath: not prayer, tears, or shame. And then
I blamed myself, and them, and God. I think
about that morning when my mood is black.
That winter morning there was talk of sin.
That winter morning there was talk of sin
and Santa’s naughty/nice list. I believed
that jolly fart was monitoring me.
He knew when I was good, or when I’d been
condemning action figures to their dooms
beneath the magnifying glass’ glare
or sentencing a friend to take a dare
to suddenly redecorate their room
with markers. Still, he brought me presents. More
than I deserved, I guarantee. The thrill,
defying Santa, earns a bit of pride
like someone winning skirmishes in war,
and there you have it: unresolved, but still
a mystery the privileged decide.
A mystery: the privileged decide
what’s cool, what outfit says: without a doubt
now, you belong. Now you have learned about
the fashions we have chosen: we confide
in utmost secrecy, to you, our lore.
The hidden vault of teenage secrets. You
enjoy our wisdom. What to do, and who:
the line between Madonna and the whore.
I recognize misogyny, but then
belonging matters more than taking stands.
A freshman pledge can’t leverage much clout
to challenge those of unrepentant sin:
my brothers said no guilt lay in their hands.
Belief was never present without doubt.
Belief was never present. Without doubt,
I knew before I consciously could know
that February evening in the snow,
my faith was miles away from being devout.
Abomination, that’s the word they chose
for my kind. Wicca offered solace, calm,
a refuge. Something which would give a balm
upon my soul, if such a thing arose
from all my blundering in search of grace.
If such a state exists. A brief reprieve
from ego. I accept that, by their leave,
the schemes of deities will move apace
from cynicism– welcomed half-belief
that something mattered. That, at least, I knew.
That something mattered. That at least I knew
the way to change a tire, a diaper. Life,
if need be, dead to alive. C.P.R.
I started pre-med—didn’t follow through
despite my expectations– they were good,
but passion lay within the arts: at first,
the theatre called, clarion. I could
have wandered deep into those curtained woods,
directing, acting, checking all the facts,
or running spotlights. What a life to earn,
from one show to the next. I miss the ride
we shared, performers bonding between acts.
Performances today, such passions burn
someone in whom I felt I could confide.
Someone in whom I felt I could confide
betrayed me when they hit me, the first time
but not the last. I long, still, for his grime.
Forgive me, but my tastes are ever wide
and hungry. I may just forgive you, but
I cannot forget you, nor should I, dear,
though particles of me still hold you near,
I crush them under this unsteady foot.
Breaking my necklace: Oh, dude, big mistake.
My mom gave that to me in high school. You
strike me as a kindred soul, though: without.
our loneliness together, we need a break–
redemption…is it there for us to earn?
Some secrets hidden from the good devout.
Some secrets hidden from the good devout,
and rightly so. But who, in faith, are they
to say that only those who pay their way
deserve such token kindness here, without
the suffering that we were promised, told:
Deliver! Now! Or don’t. It’s all the same.
You only have your empty purse to blame.
And kindness, precious commodity, sold
as plates are passed along the pews instead
of tables, empty but for folded bills
or envelopes. We give, and give. We do
this because, more or less, the preacher said:
Indulgences make up for weakened wills.
Believers know these things. That must be true!
Believers know these things that must be true
within a given definition. When
questions of interpretation begin,
some hasten to their book to find some clue
supporting their pet theory of the week.
Perhaps they find the traction they desire,
mistranslate holy words and promise fire
awaiting those who dare begin to seek
another path—a different type of love,
perhaps, or maybe just rejecting war
they bought with offerings each week. Above
all else, their fervor does remind me of
a promise that they gave to me before
my first coherent memory was made.
My first coherent memory was made—
“Dear, when they ask about our house, just lie
beside the lake.” My father taught me why,
(I thought) that I might swim the shame away.
A creek might be a wonderland, but when
impatience simmers underneath my glare
forever, I will wonder: was it fair
that winter morning? There was talk of sin,
a mystery the privileged decide.
Belief was never present without doubt
that something mattered. That at least I knew
someone in whom I felt I could confide
some secrets hidden from the good devout
believers. Know these things that must be true.