At the Kitchen Table
It's your treat
when your parents
start talking about the you
that you haven't been
for a while.
You're a big boy now.
Home for the weekend,
they don't expect you
to eat with them.
They don't censor
what they don't know
they're saying directly at you.
Mom looks up from the paper,
'They've arrested another priest.
It's hard to say how many.' Dad
truly believes, 'Those sick bastards,
just like the fags up the street. We leave
our children in their hands
and you see what happens.'
It's admirable how simply
they understand and how little.
You think it may be enough for them
to answer the questions that keep building,
the ones that ask, 'what happened to me?'
'what could I have been?'
and 'where did I go from here?'
Scientists suggest that hairs
on the human body are merely
modified scales or feathers.
The feathers on chickens
are plucked from the body
with paraffin, or are singed.
I met a chicken once. He didn't say
much. He chased me to a closet. He showed
me around. He followed me home.
He taught me how the skin
on my back and belly lifts, folds, pulls
from the bone, and rolls like dough.
Each time was different, each time at the end
I told myself he was laying the egg.
Each time he was equal pitch, chicken, and monster.
I think I'll look him up.
I think I'll write him some letters.
I think I'll call him Mr. Hen.
He was training me to be revolutionary.
We spent late nights watching Al Jazeera
and eating hummus, me learning from him
what news without bias watched like,
and an appreciation for chickpeas mashed down
to a paste. We were like brothers. We
did the things TV brothers did, things
I'd never done, striking out in the night,
getting high in shadows outside cones
of orange light from streetlamps, daytrips to Wal-Mart.
He was the only person I'd known who could see a path
stretched straight out in front of him,
and I would've gone blindly even knowing I didn't believe.
You and I could never date, he said. That was a given.
He had a girlfriend I thought was good for him and it would never
otherwise be something I wanted. He'd said that in response
to some of the things I did, how I picked out produce,
other habits. What a strange complaint, I thought, the kind brothers
would never make. He was always saying he was an atheist,
that the cure for AIDS would have to uproot itself
from African soil in a syringe for him to believe,
and I didn't know then why that would be so important
to one whose beliefs required no faith.
We were at lunch one day talking about statistics
and world religions. He told me that of the world's many,
there was a good chance my faith was misplaced,
that he'd laugh after all to see me in a hell
with him. I think he must've been scared.
I was able to avoid him for years after that
until my 23rd birthday. I was drunk when I ran into him.
I somehow admitted I was happy to see him
all over again, regardless. He took my hand and kissed it.
He pulled me in, cupped my face, and I watched his face
come through the night, the alcohol, and the next morning
on the heels of every step of my long walk home before settling
on my lips. My first kiss was one I thought I'd keep,
it was important I reserve one thing to be intimate, but
trading it in made it all make sense. He'd asked me once
if I ever considered dating men. He didn't know how
close he was to hearing the story, how I never really consider
dating anyone, let alone with any kind of preference.
I would've told him I might've called that man a dad
or a friend at an age when I hadn't yet or just learned how
to spell them. If I could share that story with anyone.
-from Millenial Roost, C&R Press 2018, selected by POW Fall 2018 Guest Editor Tyree Daye
PROMPT: As in Dustin Pearson's "First Kiss," write about an intimate and controversial, perhaps unresolved, first. A first kiss. A first expereince with injustice. Your first expereince with pain... Any first will do so long as conflict is central to the story. What firsts nag at you? Write about that, keep it to a page, and, as always, have fun!
BIO: Dustin Pearson is a McKnight Doctoral Fellow in Creative Writing at Florida State University. The recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Pearson has served as the editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review and a Director of the Clemson Literary Festival. He won the Academy of American Poets Katharine C. Turner Prize and holds an MFA from Arizona State University. His work appears in Blackbird, Vinyl Poetry, Bennington Review, and elsewhere. Millennial Roost is his first book.