my dad

near bedtime, very often and for years now, i get this unnameable WANT

it’s not h*rny of any variety and it’s not chocolate (which is what i always try first lol) (because it’s what my ex would feed me every time i had a ptsd nightmare)

but i think i figured it out? i think it’s cinnamon sugar toast, which my dad would make for me when I couldn’t sleep.

when i was a kid my dad was a really bad insomniac, getting about 30 minutes of sleep a night, and so if i wandered out of my shared bedroom in our tiny house he would be there in the garage, chainsmoking and watching cartoons.

(there are certain key phrases, ive found, that can activate even non-caretaking types into caretaking mode. for my dad, it’s “I can’t sleep.”)

he insisted, at all times of day, that the worst thing you could do for insomnia was lay around. he advocated for flipping your pillow and switching your head to the other end of the bed, and if that didn’t work, he would say the next step is to get out of bed and do something to tire yourself out.

when i whined “dad, I can’t sleep!” he would jump into action, using his rusty diner prep cook skills to make perfect toast with margarine (always margarine in our house). i would grab my star trek novel collection, which was a fat purple book with transcriptions of the episodes. i would read and munch until i was frankly bored to tears by the blow by blow account of the episode Charlie X, and i would then go to bed and finally be able to sleep.

as i transition, i think more and more about what it means to be a man, and what it meant and means to my dad. i wonder if we all become our parents in the end, and which parent I’m going to end up as. i think a lot about laying in bed at age 12 wishing for a “sex change” and then deciding i was going to stop thinking about it because there was no way my parents could afford it. i think about age 9 begging to be allowed to shave my head, and my dad saying he doesn’t want to look at anyone’s knobbly scalp, regardless of gender. i think a lot about how my mom insists she doesn’t snore.

when people have emotions around my dad, he is instantly bewildered. you can see it in the way his eyes widen into circles. he wants to fix you like you’re leaking oil. sometimes this comes in the form of an explosion, the impulse to beat you back into line. other times he is practically begging you to stop. but no matter what, he is absolutely appalled by any show of feeling.

im not like that, am i? when people have emotions around me, do i just wish for it to stop? am i a safe person to cry to? am i a safe person to slam doors around? do i laugh and joke and do a little jig to avoid anything, anything that might smack of strife?

i am my dad, but shorter. i am my dad but ive been r*ped. i am my dad but with the knowledge that my perspective isn’t always the truth. i am just a man, with hands.

this = reality


i found it washing dishes
after sharing supper. i am not
a biographer. i am not
a biographer.

i am just a man, with hands.
the kind that put themselves to work
tearing trinkets off my skin.
i am just a man, with skin.

i have visions of future kitchens,
warm and full.


    this is socks in bed and a lazy eye.
this is the alchemy of the interrogative. this is
every millimeter of eyelashes and
the seashell curl of a lip. this is pouring jaegermeister
and three day warm cider
into cheap sweet wine and
sharing it.

    this is a dropout genius allotting 25 IQ points to crime
at all times. this is warm skin
and depth perception. this is knowing
death in your cells, and with your hands,
and on your mouth.

    this is cutting potatoes in your palm. this is
an obsession with neurochemistry. this is nightmares.


what is in the folds of your brain
is not belly button lint. what leaks out of you
is not shameful. you are not
a wide-eyed deer.
you are not
a place to plant a flag. you are not
a work horse.
learn what it feels like.

you exist.
you exist.
you exist.


i. fifteen months

my brother, head too wide for thin hips,
had been extracted with a scalpel. the new nurse
pressed the afterbirth out of her belly and
she screamed. i screamed longer.

ii. eight years

i smoothed my brother's hair while i held him
alone on grandmother's stained couch and told him
mom wasn't dead, just blown up
like a red balloon, tongue swollen into silence.
i thought i was lying.

iii. sixteen years

when she couldn't carry her own spine,
i held her purse and followed her rented scooter
through the grocery store. she
backed beeping into the fresh pie display
and, jointly splashed with raspberries,
we exploded in laughter.

iv. twenty-one years

bracing one foot against the porcelain,
i fished my mother out of the bathtub
when she had taken one pill too many and

her blood had split apart. she
was coated in spilled shampoo
but i tucked her into bed
and talked to her about the attractive weatherman
on channel thirteen news, until she asked
to be helped outside for a cigarette.

Losing Teeth

In the naked bulb light, your shielding shoulder doesn't hide
your reflection's study of its teeth,
apprehensive, the close-clinging film
a death sentence and now

whimsically, your flowered hair like seaweed
over my upturned face, brushing the blanket
copper-stained & electric, & your voice
oakly shadowed and plastic
like you practice

& my mouth is too stuffed to say
what I want, so instead I offer a smile
and the fishing hook in my lip and a wish
that you hadn't asked me to be your doll,
fluffed by petticoats and beestung lips, to be kept
in the living room, in the dentist's chair


i was told a bedtime story--
a boy had a shotgun and saw a crow
and the crow was gone
in a puff of feathers and a tiny crack.

anyone's eyes on me
and i am gone, same as the crow.
i am an unholy pinocchio and my pine
would charcoal in the sun.
i was not drawn with an outline.

my molecules are safer
in the dark, when the atmosphere
presses heavy on my clothes
to keep me in.


with my veins churning into vials,
someone else's family is leaning over me
hiding me from the nurse's needle

--my vision balloons, filling empty space
with the sterile blue curtain cliff

and the grandmother is telling me that my hair looks like lake ice,
like blackberries, like her dead daughter's dishes

and the grandfather turns to me, dirge-tempo, (i have been told
that his cells are eating him but he
is doing alright)

and he stuffs my eye sockets with gauze

math class god

we were the ones that survived, the
statistical anomalies: the accident
of genetics and the last man on earth

    --you are the math priest and the lover
of every single sequin and You calculated well
the best bullets to swallow
to send your cerebellum spinning

I am the automaton, dunked like a witch
in a ceramic grave too shallow
to know if i floated, but permanently cured
of any illusions about the metal i'm made of

    i was that bullet when you
bit the trigger because
i've always had to serve your motivations

and you were the water
lifting flakes of living rust
because you've always been my situation

Rented Room

the brick kitchen is comforting
and the fire escape adventurous and urban and
during midnight breakfasts cats curl around my calves but

i am the stranger
in the house.

this is the only home on the street.
the others are facades.
with the flick of a switch from the capitol
all the lights dance to life, supporting
spectacular shadow puppets, joints and jaws and all.
i speak to them sometimes, from the sidewalk
and they ask me if i'm alright.
of course i'm alright.

my window borders the church's parking lot,
and old church, with iron-strapped doors that feel like
imaginary months in Europe, and it has a bell
that tolls out over the city, or maybe dusty speakers
and every third hour it plays a ditty like a dour ice cream truck,
and each tone vibrates against itself like a violin lesson.

every night i walk to the gas station to buy beer.
i am only 22 but they know me, or they know
my face and my birthdate. they don't know
my nightmares and i don't know theirs.


I thought I rested in your palms like a music box,
when I hung in your grip
like an invalid. 

"I don't have words," I slurred, absolutely stoned
and oceaned with devotion,
and, fluttering, frustrated your questions
into silence.

You only saw my broadest sweeps, the
dashes and dots, some of the inevitabilites
and a wound or two.

You never could focus.