TAKING PAIN KILLERS AFTER SURGERY
The lion and lamb cancel each other out
in the land of pain killers. Something sticky
in the brain canals, and the cleaning boats
with their electric snakes are on strike.
Age fifty-two, my knees sing the blues,
kicked out of church for smart-alecky
prayers, last-minute conversions
and perversions and alternate versions
of an earlier life. They changed the test
right when I finally thought I’d figured it out.
You wouldn’t shoot a three-legged dog,
would you, Jesus?
I took too many time-killers, fiddling
with the radio stations while love burned.
If the fog lifts, give me my eyeballs back.
If the fog lifts, whisper sweet static in my ear.
Tell me a bedtime story about crutches
and the witch who rides them.
The lion and the lamb share a private joke.
Tell me that joke.
REMEDIAL SPEECH CLASS
If someone shouted speech, speech
I would have killed them.
Okay, that’s a reach.
Eleven, not killing anyone—that
would’ve required more speech. I sat
on my hands in class
refusing to raise them.
I who slurred my words and could not stand
to hear them mock those wounded birds,
the flailing of my leaking words
no plumber or therapist could dam.
I could say that, squirming with St. Joe the Stutterer
at the small round remedial table. Even there,
just a mutterer. Bitter root of self-pity. I shred my skin
with silence. If only everything was singular
like the name of God. No “s.”
When the nun asked, did I believe,
I answered yeah,
not yes. Even that, a lie. What did I believe?
Even my cursive scrawl slurred the truth, but this is true:
a nun told me, in front of the class, to practice crawling to improve.
I showed no one my first poem:
Fuck God. Fuck Speech.
LAST RITES CRUCIFIX
Thursdays, my mother worked at the dime store.
At lunch my girlfriend and I ran from school
to the back door to the big bed in my parents’ room
where I lifted her skirt and we did what we could
under the crucifix on the bare white wall.
The clock on the dresser ticked us down
to run back for 5th period.
What are you doing in here?
my mother asked. I’d slid open the crucifix,
taken the candles out. Put that away.
Some day we’ll need it.
What if Jesus had a hollowed-out cross
he could climb inside and hide in?
To reappear whole like the woman sawed in half—
just tap it with the wand, and there he’d be,
ready to take a bow, toss the crown of thorns
into the crowd.
Their dressers filled with relics—
his corporal stripes, scout knife, cuff links,
clippings from his southpaw days at St. Rose.
Her jewelry box of condoms and rosaries
and charms in the shape of her children’s heads
that she never wore, believing it would keep us safe.
We squeezed a lot into twenty minutes on Thursdays,
shunning the room of boys with its two bunk beds,
and the room of the grandmother and sister,
with their single beds. We leaped on their queen.
I imagined our searing lust could melt those candles.
She was Orthodox. We were unorthodox.
After, we carefully smoothed the thick spread,
blotting wet spots with tissues.
God knows how often they did it them-
selves—at least five. The candle wicks
were blackened, but I never asked.
My grandmother volunteered at church Tuesdays
and Thursdays. We went by the Roman calendar
minus the Greek calendar, plus the square root
of the remainder—the rhythm method of the devil.
Put that back, my mother said, and get out.
Shame filled my secret hollowed-out spot.
I had my tiny hammer, my tiny nails.
I drove them in Thursday afternoons,
sunlight streaming in like resurrection,
or the second coming, or the third.
The hidden compartment contained
a kit for dying. We were going to live forever.
We improvised the script, talking in tongues
Thursdays at noon under the death-rites crucifix
in the tiny room with the big bed
on Rome Street in Warren, Michigan,
a quarter mile from Fitzgerald High School.
My only holy relic, the house key in my pocket.
We were doubting Thomases, our hands
on each other’s wounds, faith only in Thursdays
and the hard beads of our young bodies
as we called out oh God oh God oh God.
On the wall, the crucifix waited.
JIM DANIELS’ fourteenth book of poems, Birth Marks, was published by BOA Editions in 2013 and was selected as a Michigan Notable Book, winner of the Milton Kessler Poetry Book Award, and received the Gold Medal in Poetry in the Independent Publishers Book Awards. His fifth book of short fiction, Eight Mile High, was published by Michigan State University Press in 2014. A native of Detroit, Daniels is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.