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Dirty Flannel Collar

I am ten years old.

It is spring.

The grass has begun its transformation

from brown to green.

I am getting out of school.

I walk six blocks home alone,

creating stories of moving away,

being asked to join a boy band,

my mother getting transferred,

my father getting a real job.

There is a box of clothes on our porch.

There is no note.

I know who left it.

I drag the box inside.

It’s the first warm day since snow,

mom won’t be home for an hour,

I want to be outside, in a tree,

living someone else’s life,

but I stay inside until mom gets home.

I follow the rules.

Jake is supposed to watch me,

Who knows where he is,

Micah drops off his book bag,

Heads to the park,

He does not invite me.

When mom gets home I tell her about the box,

Run to the park and climb my favorite tree

the one that defines the makeshift end zone.

I imagine it is my home.

I am no longer a boy,

But have mutated into a tree person.

I cook and clean our branches,

polish the leaves,

raise the seed’s,

until my tree husband comes home

and he makes love to me like a redwood,

sturdy and strong.

I hear moms whistle,

jump from the tree and race my brothers home.

The box of clothes sits in our sunroom all summer,

while I am driving from field to field

moving water so my father can grow money.

I swim every day,

My skin has turned a deep brown.

I am surprised at how white my thighs are.

Tornados break the monotony of farming.

My brothers wash the boat.

My mother packs the food.

We take the camper to the lake.

My dad skis.

I watch him fall

I build sandcastles, swim with the fish,

and run around in my life jacket.

I am happy here.

Before school starts

We make one final trip.

Mom hates school shopping.

We buy only what we need.

I am limited to one pair of shoes

that will be worn during P.E.

I will wear Jake’s P.E. shoes from last year.

Micah will wear mine.

Noah will wear Micah’s.

When we get home,

we sit down and go through

the boxes of clothing

that have accumulated in our house.

They have started to overwhelm mom.

The boxes are sorted between the four of us.

Pants we don’t have a choice;

if they fit, we wear them,

no matter the condition.

But I get to choose the shirts.

The rejects become rags on the farm.

I take the stack of clothes to my bedroom,

carefully place my new wardrobe in my dresser

like it’s a collection of hope diamonds.

I am fifteen years old.

I have held my own job for three months.

I am in Old Navy.

I purchase my first brand new t-shirt.

It is blue, I wear it til the thread

in the seams break and the sleeves fall off.

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codeine and contac ( are you Syriaous? )


the abstractions and distractions 

have been swept into the corner pocket

of the nine-ball, role call and response docket


tunes are playing for the rocketed

hemlocked recipes not fit for humans

filed under “you don’t get to tune in”

at the feet of the cosmic seat, where

flutes are piffling and trumpets bleating, 

men-o’-war work-steadily meeting and competing

for that which should bear no repeating


whipping up their custards of humble pie

served to diners in greasy dens  

who didn’t pass the muster, why? 

because our heads are still reined-in

from saviors singing and phrases pinging

though head spaces of mental cases of incremental

changlings, their party sickles dangling across the board 

walking it through to attain the genuine article


at any cost, cutting or head butting; we’ll have to 

resign to be assigned a reservation at the testing

station, where you wait and cogitate on your role

as the cog-au-vin plate, served daily by the billions,

twerking, slaving at the privilege of ‘the millioned’

collecting, disrespecting, self-protecting, world-neglecting,

claiming godhood while genuflecting, to baal-istical statistics

and paramilitary mystics in lipsticks


when will we come to realize and see the writing on the 

wall-eyed wally of the airwaves of weebling wobblng people 

falling down blind alleyways like sheeple,

going where you lead em, just as long as they think you’ll feed em 

into the slaughterhousing five-point a’gon and on and on and on, 

beat don’t stop til they say it’s done, but the battles seem to go on and on

maybe cause they can’t be won - dimensional, two-dimensional, 

three-dimensional four, so sick and tired of all mention of

a sick and tiring war…


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For Charlie

Charlie, the night you clawed

your lifeless body down the hall,

found your way through the dark

to your neighbors phone booth,

three men detached your door,

tied your hands to the bedpost,

ripped clothes from your body,

took razors to skin, carved lesbian

across your stomach, painted

the walls queer, let gasoline

flow across your floor, to burn

your forest to the ground


thousands gathered on the steps

of the capital. lit a sleeping town alive.

Refusing to blow out the candle

that was ignited with you. You were

the victim of the worst kind of crime.

We gathered on the meadow for you.

When the news shared your tale

your shaking voice swelled our throats.

we held your hurt in our Adams apple.


But it was you who bought the zip ties

that bound your hands to the bedpost.

Carved faggot across your own chest,

hands lined with gasoline.  You wept

when the ambulance took you away

the tears you shed were forged

from dried up streams. The pain

was self-inflicted . Police found

white gloves on your living room floor.

You wanted to be the catalyst for change.

Now, you face up to a year in prison.


But we are still here, sitting

on the steps of the capitol

waiting for a something organic

to bloom gay rights across the Sandhills.

We will still be here, but not for you.

When they hand you their verdict

in the most precious envelope.

A community of people could have used

your story to show how much hate

is harbored in the good life.


You are a selfish martyr;

a counterfeit hate crime.

You can be the catalyst for change

without deconstructing Stonewall

brick by brick, without tearing

the seams of the AIDS quilt.

We have gained so much momentum,

your brakes have backed up cars for miles.

Most already hate us, you are giving

them one more reason. You are drying

the blood that has already been shed.

We need you here beside us,

marching with us, fighting with us,

instead of boxing yourself into gloves

that can never be removed.

We need you here.

We want you here.

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I was sitting
While the two of you were talking
About some political topic I had no interest in
You were defending your selfish, Republican views
While she sounded like the typical, self-inflated Democrat.
Meanwhile I sat to the side
Playing with a cheese knife
Because it was clear
You'd both seen too much news
To make up your own mind about an issue.
Eventually, you saw me,
And suddenly the knife was a novelty.
Something you had to play with
So you asked me to see it.
I obliged knowing that once you had the knife
You'd quickly lose interest
Like a child wanting the toy another had
Because another had it.
While she eyeing me sitting silently
Assumed I knew nothing about what you were talking about
And tried her best to help explain
(So I would only see her side as right)
When she didn't understand I didn't want her help.
You put down the knife in a minute
And resumed arguing
Then, forgetting about me
She did too.
And the whole time,
The two of you
Never solved a single issue.