Poetry

One of Our Walks

We were on one of our walks, Alex

you and me.

 

I was 19 and you were 7

and neither of us quite belonged.

You were my foster brother and the full adoption

wouldn’t happen until September.

 

I was schoolless

for the first time in thirteen years,

biding my time till August

when I could be a freshman again,

and grades would start telling me

how life was going.

 

Both of us in the place

between belonging and not.

Just moving in opposite directions.

 

But we were on our walk

and you asked me

with your now-trademark directness

why I had to leave.

 

And before I could answer,

you offered

an explanation of your own:

“Because only Charlie Brown don’t grow old?”

Poetry

A Standoff in the Shop of my Employ

Yesterday, a young man on a date

approached the register and asked,

“What are these?”

and I said,

“Cookies,”

because they were cookies,

but that was only partly true.

 

“Cookie sandwiches,”

I elaborated,

“They’re gluten-free.”

I knew that because I worked there,

not because of the disease that makes me know things.

 

“Oh,

he scoffed, stepping back from the counter just a hair,

“so they’re probably terrible.”

He waved his hand over the cookies,

denouncing this title upon them.

 

“They’re actually pretty delicious,”

said I in the cookies’ defence, still smiling.

I had eaten several

over the course

of my time working there–

cream-centered

chocolate chip

cookie sandwiches,

somehow delicious while

simultaneously

free of dairy, soy, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, and GLUTEN (!),

that toxic bane!

that demon in the dough!

that kraken of the cracker

that had plagued me six years hence!

 

The standoff could have ended there,

with a recommendation for cookies,

except the man parried.

 

“But what IS gluten?”

he asked, adjusting his stance,

stepping forward again.

“Can you tell me that?”

 

He asked, “Can you tell me that?”

as though this knowledge

lay beyond the realm of human thought,

as if gluten were a sentiment

only vaguely considered

toward breadlike effects,

with no real physical existence.

 

“Can you tell me that?” he asked.

 

And I could, because of the disease that makes me know things.

 

And I did.

Flawlessly,

fatally,

without hesitation.

 

“Yeah!”

I gladly replied.

“It’s a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley!”

 

“Oh,” he said,

deflating a little,

“Damn.

I didn’t think anyone actually knew that.”

 

There are few victories won

for those

with intestinal maladies

–most of them involve staying alive,

and eating food

that tastes semi-normal.

 

But every now and then,

you can make a dude look dumb

in front of his girlfriend.

Poetry

Of Atoms and Insects

On the fifth night

of my sixth summer

at church camp,

–nestled in the bustling hub

of a 200-resident backwater town–

 

I stopped a while to wonder

at a towering copse of trees,

sprinkled in the cold, wild light of fireflies,

each of a million

blinking its independent rhythm

in a silent, elegant mania.

 

“Look!” a counselor called to her kids,

noticing too the glowing trees.

“Look at the light show God put on just for you!”

 

This statement bothered me,

and for ten years now

I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Why someone’s spiritual understanding of

Pennsylvania’s state insect

could annoy me so much.

 

It’s not that I don’t believe in God.

I do,

and I like the idea of a divine energy

somehow

coursing through these beetles’ lambent asses,

 

But I don’t want them to care about me.

 

To say every time I walk up,

“Oh, he’s here!

Quick, turn on your butts!

God told us to!”

 

I prefer nature’s soft apathy

to a cloying, needy Creator.

 

But now I’m reading about electrons,

and let me tell you about these sons of bitches.

 

Not only do they lack

singular locations

–residing instead

in uncertain “clouds”

of probable residence–

 

but their very essence

–wave or particle–

can shift

based on method of observation.

 

In other words,

how you look at electrons

doesn’t change how they appear to you,

it changes how they are to themselves.

 

Leaving me confounded

 

that lightning bugs

might glow ignorant,

but strip each beetle to its base

and you’ll find pieces

staring back.

 

Maybe I’m so unsettled

because I haven’t decided

which one God is more like:

 

The personal, pliable fragment,

or the indifferent and glorious swarm?