Polaroids of God from My Eleventh Summer
1: From the Tent Set up in the Backyard
For a moment you vacated your crown of sacrifice,
bibley jesus god of my mother,
and blood dripped down my forehead instead.
In my eyes, the red drop a cloud on top of water.
I’d just passed a cigarette to the girl
two years younger than me, cloud sting
folded over the sky and the tent
where we hid from June afternoon light,
humid air the humid breath stuck
inside my sticky eye corner, you told me
I needed to reel back that Marlboro,
she was too young, it was too soon
to invest in coughs like those our fathers shared
over Busch Light beers numbering impossible,
bleeding from eyes, it turned out,
was the conscience showing itself, even if
she’d develop the habit like I had already at eleven,
the taste for smoke, the need to watch
evidence of breath coming in,
curling out, I’m still here. She handed it back,
I smelled the skinsides of my knuckles
burn when I pulled the lit softness back from her,
it’s difficult to hold a cigarette’s thin waist
without crushing it when you first learn.
I unzipped the tent so she could stumble out,
breathe clean air. In the backyard that day,
you let me free a version of my mistaken self
from one of my mistakes, you,
the bibley jesus three-headed type god,
god of Marlboros thin like other girls, breathing.
2: From the Highway I Walked in My Speedo
That summer I wore a Speedo swimsuit
two sizes too small because the brand
let me feel smaller and Olympic-sponsored
and the color made me feel like a body burned
blue gray, fabric metallic, taste of fleshmelt smoke
that tongued its way into my mouth
every time the charred bodies filled my eyes
from lower lashes to the top of my head
slicked clean off, some clean blade
mining my memory. It was my first hallucination:
it circled round and pillowed open
my sleep’s soft stomach with its needled fingers.
Blue sky tarped over me as I walked
my four-mile country road walk, farmers called
the loop a section. I walked alone and thrilled
a little every time a car slowed down to ask
if I needed a ride, felt my torso melt from my spine
until it hung sticky from the waistband
of the canvas pants I’d pulled on over the Speedo.
Never when the car slowed to take me —
or was it overtake? — did I wonder where the stranger
could take me other than some palace where
the studs were girlmatter-stripped bones, I imagined
that, where we’d go, the basement floor tasted
like metal, salt, dirt, limes. I imagined
but on this walk had seen: sky blue through to bone,
then cloud-choked, suddenly, thick welted
clouds like factory fire. I walked past the steel factory,
so I stopped, watched, waited. A trumpet interrupted,
tiny horn dropped cartoon into a corner of the sky —
it inhaled just once, sucked up all the smoke, every cloud.
What happened. What had happened, gone.
My brain still searching the palace, darting from body
to body. I turned to walk back down the hill to my house,
my eyes trained back to the gravel I kicked up, stones
burying themselves in my shoes, blistering
my soft soles — were you the trumpet, god,
or the sky? The getaway car that never hearsed me,
or my organs melted down to dull gravel
shoeing me burned — were you ever the sun?
3: From the Seat of the Riding Lawn Mower
Vodka my body more than water by fourteen,
but first, scotch at eleven, and the very first: beers,
warm ones, left in the four-car garage
filled with junk my mother screamed at my father
about every time he came home for a weekend
every other weekend or so, my hands alone
flipping the tabs of eleven warm beers. Drinking alone,
I saw you from the seat of the riding lawn mower,
the one my mother didn’t let us use since
the gear stuck that summer, and she couldn’t turn away,
cut herself in half driving into the barbed wire fence.
I want to ask you while I’m here, motionless,
if you were ever the fence, or were you the gear?
The scream my mother’s guts bled onto the grass,
or the scream she gave to warn my sister and me —
You girls stay away from me! First, she’d screamed
my father’s name for help — we’d never heard her need
him like that. God, you looked like scotch,
like hell, like dusty old can metal drinking me
empty empty empty — god, I admit I heard nothing
when you spoke to the congregation, so I stopped
listening, but I could still find you when whistling
through a blade of grass on our house’s grassy acre,
I found you in the dizzy walk from forbidden
machine to garage and back, swaying, that first hard drunk.
My mouth the next morning stung, tasted of the fields
surrounding me, my head a lightning bolt,
finally oh finally I prayed without assignment,
that morning the first time my head felt fit for my body,
what was done to it, the answer to prayer is
when you first know the size of your own pain, stop asking.
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