Short-Term Evangelist

I helped my church plant a garden in Chicago’s inner city,
but the plants withered, because we forgot
to water the leaves, declaring our mission accomplished once
we planted the seeds. One of the boys who pretended
to shoot me as my friends handed out cafeteria trays
asked if I’d return to play with them the next day.
I had to say no, because we planned to take a trip
to Michigan Avenue where I entered my first Apple Store.
Homeless men and women begged at the doors of Starbucks,
still holding the pamphlets on the Four Spiritual Laws we gave them
that morning during the evangelist phase of the mission.
I gave them no money because I only carry plastic,
but I gave one the rest of my vanilla bean frappe.
He wanted to talk about Jesus—I wanted to talk to a girl,
but God was watching, and so was she,
so I listened to his testimony, waiting for the opportunity
to present mine and close the sale, get close to my soulmate,
but his testimony ran too long, didn’t adhere
to the three-hundred-word limit we wrote
and rehearsed the morning we arrived in Illinois.
I drowned out his tragedies with prayers to return home
on dates with porn stars I promised I’d leave behind
once God blessed me with a family of my own,
until he stopped, and I could finally brush him away
with a passionate prayer, but though free, she already left
to see Blue Man Group with the rest of the flock.
I wandered through Michigan Avenue in search
of a light, a sign, whether it came from the sky or from a strip club.

Nostalgic for You

I never considered you more than a friend,
but time multiplied by distance reshapes
your face, mutates friends into obsessions,
molds love out of nothing, perverts the chaste.

Dreams photoshop your eyes a greener shade
as porn expands your breasts a couple cups.
Old songs reheard weave us into new fate
revised by porn with girls who have your butt.

I found you on Twitter again. Your tweets
praised Trump, raised guns for Ohio, teabagged
women and children. Were you always so sweet?
I never noticed. I never saw through masks.

My dreams now have you bind me, torture me
with whips and wax until I vote GOP.

I Wish I Were White

If I were white, I could’ve been Jesus in the passion.
No, he wasn’t white, the church reluctantly admits, but
Chad, the varsity quarterback who scored
four touchdowns in one game, makes such a great Son of God!
Brittany, his cheerleader girlfriend and pastor’s daughter,
is already Mary, his mom. Why break such great chemistry
and cause strife among the elders just to make
a political point about an ethnic Jesus?

The college pastor/eHarmony matchmaker
might have tried to set me up with the girl I loved
rather than the only other brown one in the ministry.
Did he not notice how devotedly I followed her,
or was the idea of us together inconceivable?
She would’ve still said no when I asked her out,
but rejection would’ve arrived before the date rather than after
she realized the feelings I expressed to her weren’t just a joke,
and I wouldn’t have spent an entire week preparing
for a chance I never had—not even one in a million.

If I were white, it wouldn’t be so ironic
when white social justice warriors tell me to check my white privilege
because I dared disagree with them on what it means to be different.
I would be their equal rather than their damsel in distress
who congratulates them with cake for defending me against myself.
They wouldn’t call me self-hating because I dislike mariachi music
and never learned Spanish. I chose to follow the goth girl to French instead.
I’d have followed her into the crowd, but black and white clashed with me.
So did the Hispanic and Asian crowds.
I just sat on a bench and watched the goths from afar as I listened
to Morrissey on my smuggled-in Discman.

If I were white, nobody would ask me whether or not the white boy
I take the park is my son; it would never happen.
Nobody would ask me where I was from.
Nobody would respond, “I mean before California,”
when I answered.

If I were white, I could choose my own class.
I’d be the default character: a clean slate, perfectly average
with limitless potential. I would be the human,
not the elf who only works well with magics
or the dwarf who’d better be a tank if he wants to be useful.
I could be a paladin, wizard, or ranger.
I could be a dashing rogue and not just a thug.
I could even be a ninja, because some ninjas are white,
but a ninja of Hispanic or Southeast Asian origins? Inconceivable.
I could be just American. I could be the everyman,
the star of every video game and movie, the god of every religion.
I could be Jesus transfigured, shining in white.

Dampened Dreamer

Go fund yourself, I replied when you asked for money.
Begging at burnt bridges surprises nobody, but even
on your Jesus year, you wait on rooftops for miracles
and shoo away would-be friends who won’t pay
to be your clients. You say you’ve earned success,
but what have you done besides plant azaleas
you quit watering when the summer arrived?
The waves washed up your sandcastles,
and your resume has no references because nobody
returns your calls anymore. Those who do,
you threaten to sue or accuse of assault
to shake them down for some investor capital.

I satisfied your wanderlust for a weekend—you burnt me
the next, but I’m not upset the plans we made withered.
I don’t miss your shadow boxing or your crazy antics,
but you aren’t crazy, just spoiled. Exotic eastern spiritualities
can’t fill the holes Hollywood and Paris left in you.
I can’t either—your problems are too large
for my quaint life cultivated through crises you experienced
but never adapted to. You still wear the ring and dress
with a oneway ticket back to your hometown
to see your should’ve-been husband again.
Strike your flint to reignite old flames, but
you already scorched your earth. Ashes won’t burn again.
Say hi to his new family for me.

Summer of ’99

I had a headache, so I grabbed a bottle of Tylenol.
The instructions suggested two pills, but my head
really hurt so I grabbed a few more—I took forty,
but I still couldn’t sleep. They fell out my mouth
before they could work. The doctors smoldered
me with charcoal, threatened me with catheters.
Three days I lay undead in a hospital bed,
wondering why I even tried. I wanted life
outside of dreams in which I couldn’t move or speak
and thought I’d wake up if I pinched hard enough.

Comparisons to the incontinent in convalescence
convinced me to give life another try. I could walk,
talk, think, dream. I just couldn’t speak, but maybe
I’d find my voice if I continued the effort.
Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin never helped; surely Zoloft would!
I left that hospital with newfound appreciation for life,
ready to write, make new friends, find true love.
All I had needed was a more positive attitude spiced
with courage to sweeten my dull days, and I finally found it!

Three days later, I lost it, but I couldn’t try again.
Plan B already failed, and I couldn’t experiment.
I was just a teenager without a car, without a gun,
afraid of the world, afraid of trains, afraid of razor blades.
That summer of ninety-nine, I gave up on death
and spent the rest of my time in bed listening
to my thoughts as the Cure sedated me.

An Apostate’s Apology

I say I hate Jesus and his body, but that’s not really true.
I cried during the Passion; not as much as I did for Batman,
but I still felt bad for him as he hung from the cross.
I admire Francis and his namesake, Wilberforce and Bell too.
Ignoring all deities, we overlap more than we disagree
and work to make Heaven a place on Earth just as Carlisle sings.

I was sick once, so I went to church, but a hospital’s no use
when overrun by the inmates, and though diagnosed mentally ill,
I’m not so crazy that I’ll embrace hate and call it love,
tighten up marriage while loosening my pants for Ashley Madison,
cultivate life while I celebrate the deaths of jaywalking teens,
show more love toward a flag than children who are gay, trans,
female, black, or anybody else considered second class.
Though born again, I’m still old enough to understand hypocrisy;
I understood since I was three.

The body of Christ is sick, covered in its own shit,
anus agape, pouring out keepers of broken promise
from the Duggars and Robertsons to the Camerons and Grahams,
mimicking Ace Ventura as it speaks to the world
and declares itself the salt of the earth because it’s stench
stings the eyes and wounds of every lost soul.
It needs a bath in water, fire, and vinegar.
Scrub away all the Republican. Underneath,
there may be flesh worth following. If not,
at least it’ll be clean.

Revel in the Rodeo

He climbs onto my shoulders like I’m his titan.
He steers me in the right direction
with constant detours toward the toy section.
Little hands break my faux-hawk style
and give me bed-head despite
not touching the mattress since he left his.
My racoon eyelids hide beneath the glow
I get whenever he speaks his five-year-old dialect.
Even though he strains my neck, my back
has never stood as firm
before I fought to protect him against pitbulls
and bullish parents who bite and poke
to try to shape him into a well-behaved,
medically tranquil, spiritually wrangled model citizen
like generations of men who knew discipline and respect
and still enslaved nations and murdered the rest.
I block their volleys. I won’t shock him off me
even when he’s running on walls
I remain beside him, guarding
his journey through the frontier.

One-Sided Conversation

Feels good to write again. My poem for day 3’s prompt of Writers Digest’s 2014 April Poem-a-Day Challenge: Write a message poem.

r u hungry? let’s go 2 panera!! :)
thats cool. im busy 2. :(
still need help w/math?? im a wiz! :)
no didnt take statistics :( maybe i can help anyway :)
how’s the essay coming along? need help with that? :)
no. i never read that book.
ready for a break? let’s hang out a bit. i’m just chillin’ in the library.
that’s a lot of homework. i have lots too. i should work on my essay.
No, I finished it, but I should probably look over it again. :) See you next week!
Oh. Well, have fun at Disneyland with your boyfriend. I’m so jealous.

Minimum Day

It’s about time I wrote again. My poem for day 2’s prompt of Writers Digest’s 2014 April Poem-a-Day Challenge: Write a voyage poem.

Home lay over the overpass,
but a yellow sign forbid two ten-year-olds from crossing.
I thought the trek around would be as straight,
but streets branched into industries
we never saw on drives back home.
The paths I hoped would lead us back
ended in walls we wouldn’t scale.
I understood street names as little
as graffiti on the sides of empty buildings
and company logos unseen at Toys’R’Us.
The few passersby that drove these streets
would neither stop nor slow for us—
we knew not to talk to strangers anyway.
A nudge and a prayer guided my way.

We crawled through the labyrinth
hungry for food and home and Sega games;
I wished I could reset now that we were stuck.
I would’ve listened to my brother when
he said we should walk to grandma’s two blocks from school
or even wait for mom to pick us up,
but I knew the way home, just not below
the overpass we had driven across before.
Halfway through, we couldn’t turn back.
Tall blocks of buildings hid east from west—
as if I could read a compass anyway—
but a hunch encouraged me forward.
I just had to find the right direction.
Home lay only a few blocks away.

Justin Bieber in the News

A tweet delivered the news to the world:
Bieber arrested, a DUI.
At only nineteen, Icarus
ascended the sky, danced with the stars.
Young wings melt fast; fame doesn’t last.
The world watches as he crashes
from YouTube to MTV to has-been,
but dozens of hits still inside him.

His mother gone, thugs usher him
into a cell. The cameras watch.
Men with batons wait for a mistake
to smash his pretty, heartthrob face.
His entourage abandoned ship;
new criminals surrounding him.
No money to give, bankrupt and broke,
no longer a hit, no longer at home.

Old men with blogs rejoice at the news.
It’s given them a voice to share,
another reason to exist.
Fanatics burn the effigies
the bloggers build from stepped-on straw
as if they won a victory.
Another star fell from the sky;
another hit for TMZ.

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