The Sacrament of Confession in Catholic School

In kindergarten, I sketched a vagina as a circle
lost in strands of hair, similar to a scribbled sun.

The inklings of want would soon
set sail. When I showed the drawing

to my mother, she somehow knew what it was.
Her suspicious eye taught me life is the pursuit

of the scribbled sun. The first time I drove a car alone,
zooming up the hill toward the highway, I took pictures

of the sunset without watching the road, as if heaven
could be captured with my own fingers. At sixteen

I stole Snickers bars at my first job. The dollar store
went under. It could have been worse. I told the priest

maybe God thinks I touch myself improperly.
He said to toss the dirty magazines, meaning

I didn’t change a thing. In marching band, I pressed
my mouth against the trombone’s silver mouthpiece

and kissed when I blew, spit coursing through the instrument’s body
until it dripped onto the checkered floor. I didn’t lose my virginity

too early. By then it was too late. I have seen the L.A. River
rub itself dry beneath the metal bridges, withered and silent,

while the ocean wets perpetual sand, and all I could do
was run my fingers through the tide’s receding hair.

In seventh grade the school librarian declared if anyone
in class could finish A Tale of Two Cities, it was me.

I did not finish. I was twelve and mastering arousal,
turning pages with fingers on thighs inside of skirts,

skulking my hand up to God, to the first time
I knew sanctity– and the feeling, unlike faith,

was enough to make me believe.

 

(originally published in Corium Magazine, Spring 2016)

Happy Hour Whiskey

I don’t think my dad would be proud of me
writing poems on bar napkins
after that fifth happy hour whiskey.

This is how I want it: to be disengaged
by the time my uniform cuffs roll
to my eyes in stupor to avoid the

solemn eyes of ancestors in the sky.
Transparent Mufasas and steely voices
judge me like America judges Kardashians.

The reality is you can rewind the DV tape
back to the beginning tomorrow and show me
the footage of my stumbling into the driver’s seat.

The cosmos roll in their graves.
Meanwhile I am the last child
who can cast the line onward–

past, present, future.
A syzygy from birth.
The headlights wane.

 

(originally published in Jawline Review, Spring 2016)

Meditations on Sleeping in My Car

Paradise is worse than this. I’ve pissed
in the golden streets of Beverly Hills.
The stars depart their private cabs,
shoes on the ground. I’ve pissed in beach sand
with the waterbirds, the full balloon
at sunrise, wind swaying. The neighborhood
has my back. I spit fish fluoride
into grass. Splotches of next-day death
in circles brown and black. Windows fog. Yeah
I’m an airplane in a cloud. Should’ve wrapped that scarf
around my neck until my head fell off. The night is
a broken refrigerator, top shelf. Tell that to the rotting
trunk sushi. Still, some spiders creep through cracks and
keep the feet and urine smells out. Bent to a backseat
sockball and time is an envelope I hand to a stranger.
How his home stinks of sweat and mildew
and old Havarti. Fiona has crank windows
and that new car smell and floating dust.
I can’t spit enough. Blame it on the vermouth.
In the morning, I floss my coal moon fingernails
with flamenco strings. Neighbors run
past but who needs pants.
Say hello to the father and his
baby in the stroller. Say hello
to the fleshy whites. Say
hello to everlasting days
of luxury where the days
don’t end, the nights never
end, again and again
the fishing rod window
cranks, to invited crows–
the feasts of mud– say
hello and wave and caw.

 

(originally published in Prong & Posy, Issue 2)

Future Men

boys who would be future men 
squealed at new Pokemon.
mimicked moves, karate'd birds

flapping and winging and flinging
     OVER NINE THOUSAND!
miles per hour

and things
eight-dollar K-B Toys 
always break 

blue mega man 
onto metal bunk
bed swung 
                              CLANKCLUNK

sprints'a from kitchen, lotsa surge, 
hi-ye-ho bullet train 
                              small-scale rail

    the basement 
       digging
digging through purple bin
     TREASURE! TREASURE!

homemade pogs; on one side 
the cut-out cartoons 
from game manuals, Zero so cool
his long blonde hair, red armor
give me his sword no 
          it's mine 
          x-buster
    circular cutting 
rise to heroes controlled  
  control was so easy

yes, yes, think of life–
death in digital terms

those boys were the masters then

    the future men and their
    cold basement summers


(originally published in Suburban Diaspora)

Rob Delaney

Hi, I am Rob Delaney.
I am not Rob Delaney

and he would never begin a five-minute set like that,
but before California dangled blackberries
above my granite mouth,

Rob showed us the way and the truth and the life
(John fourteen-six by the score of silent thumbs)

god, twitter fame was the only thing
that could bring us nearer gods we do not believe in

this big bang of a perpetually expanding following
we cannot fully understand

by choice I never listened to robins
conducting high-frequency symphonies

(but I did read Last Call of the Passenger Pigeon
by Daniel A. Hoyt that summer
and could form the parentheses of a whistle
enough to calculate the slow kettle of tea)

my father would sit on a pig stump
(an oak whose life he ended himself)
and watch birds fly the superhighway,
clouds like rush hour in L.A.

like some hippie saint claiming
all that is God
is not man-made

I always thought of bird-watching as a way
for the elderly to augment their loneliness

now all the young men I know
fetishize loneliness in themselves

 

(originally published in LEVELER – Summer 2015)

American Prayer

Why did an apple tree
grow in my backyard?
That’s where the swimming
pool was supposed to go.

I ask not for much.

A well-placed tornado, maybe.
Another plague, perchance,
to rot its every root.

Then a demon, perhaps.
Lucifer the Lumberjack,
chainsaw in hand,
could tempt the tree
with Eve, eat its fruits,
then chop it down, though
trees don’t love women
like I do.

Look, I know it’s not practical.
Jesus didn’t wear a crown of thorns
from an apple tree
but I bear a malus cross
and don’t want to give money
to a heathen
who cuts down
a tree for me.
I could do that by myself,
if I really wanted to. I really
want to buy that pool.

I’m tired of the silence.
I know it’s easier for you
to use your superpowers
to turn the tree into a Bible
that smells like a chomped-in
red delicious. If you do that
I will sue you.

 

(originally published in Cake & Grapes – Vol. I, Issue II)

Bee

“Floccinaucinihilipilification,” Danny repeats. “F – L – Um, can I have the word repeated?”

Christ, Danny. We went over this word last Thursday, thank God. It’s the longest non-scientific word in the English language. This one’s important, bud.

“Floccinaucinihilipilification,” restates Ronald Hanson, the word pronouncer with a fancy Ph.D.

I flip my blue, custom-hardcover Oxford dictionary to the F-words.

Danny fidgets with his thick, wire-framed glasses, which magnify his brown eyes even more on stage than they do normally. Patches of sweat on his cheeks and his forehead coat him like honey under the key light.

“F – L – O – um,” Danny starts. “Mr. Hanson, may I please have the definition?”

“Cut it out, Danny,” I mistakenly say out loud.

Megan leans over to whisper into my ear.

“Shut up, Daniel,” she softly but sternly says. “We don’t want anyone to think that he might be cheating.”

I push her face away.

“No one is going to notice us. There’s a kid spelling,” I quickly speak.

“Yes, hon,” she says, moving her mouth back to my ear. “But didn’t you notice that there are cameras on us, too?”

I push her head away and notice the kneeling cameraman at the side of our row pointing in our direction.

“Um, can I have a sentence, please?” Danny asks, rubbing his bright yellow cardboard identification number against his oversized, “official” yellow-and-brown striped polo.

“God damn it, Megan,” I loudly whisper. “You made me miss the official definition.”

“Oh well,” she whispers. I sense a tone of malignance in her voice. “You know what the word means already, so…”

“The official definition might be unclear. Or wrong.”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“I’ve told you a thousand times the spelling bee is rigged. They probably want that ethnic girl to win.” The foreigners always win, ever since the year I should have won and before that, too.

“Would you shut the fuck up?”

I gasp and cover her mouth with my hand. “Shh! Language! There are kids around!”

A middle-aged woman with honey-brown hair in her “official” polo suddenly appears at my side.

“We’re going to have to ask you to keep it down,” she says through big, gritted teeth in the fakest smile I’ve seen. “Or leave.”

“Well, what definition did he give?” I say, pointing to Ronald.

“Excuse me?” the lady chokes out, her fake smile making way for a squinty glare.

A swift glance reveals that people are now looking in my direction. It almost seems like people are more interested in me than my spelling child.

“I said, what definition did you give?” I repeat, much louder, directly confronting the official reader. “In the interest of fairness, I want you to repeat that definition. I didn’t hear it.”

A couple of the judges at the long white table stare ineptly at Ronald, who shakes his head no.

Danny helps me out. He asks for the definition again. With hesitation, Ronald looks at his dictionary.

“Floccinaucinihilipilification. Noun. The estimation of something as valueless or worthless.”

The eyes of the audience watch me still. I glare at anyone who looks at me, but the definition Ronald gave me was word-for-word what it said in my dictionary, so I’m content enough to proceed with watching Danny spell the word correctly.

“Floccinaucinihilipilification,” Danny says quickly, wiping his sweaty, tear-soaked face. “F – L – O – C – C – I – N – A – U – C – I – N – I – H – I – L – I – P – I – L – I – F – I – C – A – T – I – O – um.”

Come on, Danny. Come on, buddy. Finish it. One more letter and we get to proclaim: Daniel Johnson, Jr.: Spelling Bee champion. I’m so proud of you. Just finish it. One more letter and we get to hold that beautiful trophy together and be happy for the rest of our lives. Wait, buddy, are you crying? What the hell?

The Oxford dictionary is gripped tightly in my hand, pollinated with sweat.

“Uh, floccinaucinihilipilification,” Danny finishes.

DING.

“Christ!” I shout, rapidly standing and throwing my massive dictionary in one swift motion. It hits the chair in front of me with a thud and crumples to the floor. The fat parent in front of me spins around and says something I don’t hear.

Megan pulls at my shirt. It takes all of my strength not to hit her, but the camera is on us. I sit down. The people grumbling and whispering around me can kiss my ass.

“Sure wish there was a bar in here, huh?” I chuckle to the parent sitting to my right, who has refused to acknowledge me this entire time. “Because of drinks?”

The only other contestant left in the contest, the girl, comes up to the microphone.

“Floccinaucinihilipilification,” Ronald pronounces again with his fancy Ph. D.

She pronounces it and spells it quickly and clearly into the microphone.

The ding of doom doesn’t sound.

“Congratulations to Ecchumati Nityusander, the 2009 National Spelling Bee Champion,” a voice says over the loud speaker. An old, shriveled-up woman hands the winner the coveted, golden, glistening, bee-shaped trophy. The object of every kid’s desire. The girl lifts it up above her head, glowing, smiling so wide the tears on her face feel wrong. If I ever had the chance to hold the trophy, I sure as hell wouldn’t cry.

Rowdy, deafening applause. I feel myself falling into a dizzy spell.

“Bullshit!” I shout.

Everyone seems to clap in spite of me. Even Megan claps. “What the hell is wrong with you?” She doesn’t hear me.

“Fuck this!” I can barely hear myself.

I leave my seat, nearly tripping on one of Megan’s annoying feet. But I don’t. The high I get from keeping my balance while feeling dizzy makes me feel like I have wings. I effortlessly fly to the front, getting on stage.

The excited roar from the audience turns into a confused, worried, murmur.

“You can’t even spell your own name!” I yell at the girl.

Her smile twists into a fearful grimace as I effortlessly wrestle away the trophy from the young teenage girl. The bronze statue! I’m holding it! I’m actually holding it!

It’s lighter than I expect. I run to Danny, who is still seated, face buried in his hands, sobbing.

“Do you want to hold it?” I ask him. He doesn’t look up. The trophy sticks to my hands from sweat.

I plant a kiss on the bee’s forehead. I linger. It tastes like that new penny smell. I lift it high above my head. I wrote a speech for this moment when I was eleven. Seeing the occasional camera flashes nearly brings me to tears.

There’s chaos up here. The cameras want to capture it. The officials want to stop it.

“Put the trophy down and get off stage,” a short security guard warns me.

“I’m finally living my dream,” I tell him.

The police filter in from the back.

I don’t have much time.

“Danny, why did you purposefully misspell that word?” I ask. Danny’s face is uncovered, but he still refuses to look at me.

Three policemen swarm onto the stage.

“Put the trophy down!” the large officer orders.

I hold it tightly.

“Because I didn’t think you deserved to win,” Danny finally answers.

The trophy is wrestled out of my possession effortlessly. My hands are cuffed. I watch an officer bring the prize back to the girl. She takes it into her arms and hugs it. The audience erupts into cheers, again to spite me.