Here is what I wish would happen:
a windy November day,
before the snow has spilled its milk
and the leaves still grip the ground in their stiff handshakes,
that while visiting your grandmother’s gravesite,
having cleared away the autumn debris and dew dust,
I wish your grandmother would break the crust
and reach for you,
swirl her knobby, apple-pie baking bones around your ankle
and drag herself out of the trench she has been digging,
staring at you with unblinking, puss-laden eyes
yellow from a lack of sun and birthdays,
moaning from her diaphragm and her throat at once,
baring her teeth after having popped mortician stitches,
aimed at your snot-nosed five-year-old who only
wants to know if you’re going to stop at
McDonald’s on the way home.
I wish that in that mortifying moment you
remember how, while we sat in a theater
and the trailer for yet another zombie movie splayed across
the cinema canvas, you turned to me and said,
“Zombies are awesome.”
And when I said “I am so sick of zombies”,
you tightened your lips and lost
my phone number.
I wish that your grandmother was followed by another grandmother,
and another, and a jawless uncle who lost his way after the war.
And because it’s Veterans Day he will be a wily zombie general,
and his moans will mean a thing,
and on his one-armed, jawless command
every grave with a flag spits forth the contents of their dingy bellies
and the zombie invasion begins,
where you are,
while you try to remember
what was so cool about them in the first place.
It used to be vampires;
so fine, so literate, so thin and grazed of chin.
You used to coo over them, too; pecked at
every book featuring a woman too abundant for corsets,
two red dents of ancient love dotting her pristine neck.
Even you would have to admit that just because you’ve been
bitten in the neck and turned into an undead count’s whore
wouldn’t make you a better lover.
You would still be as ugly as you ever were. You’d just be ugly longer.
If we are honest, we do not love the zombie.
We do not think the zombie is cool.
We do not imagine the zombie for a lover or a count or a
Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt sandwich.
None of their stories are about them.
All zombie stories are about us,
about the people who aren’t zombies,
and how we scream and run and die when something
without the brain God gave a snow globe
manages to destroy us in a shopping mall.
So all zombie stories are about autumn and brains and
shopping carts and whatever else we can throw in their shambling path
to make the un-cool undead hooligan cool again.
So here is what I wish would happen:
that next Veteran’s Day,
when you visit the grave of your
stoic and cigar-munching grandfather,
that the wind whispers the only warning you’re apt to receive,
and then? Then you think about the fact that
I bought the popcorn
and the tickets
and the Gummi Bears you let fall through the seat and shrugged at
like they didn’t cost shit,
and you remember,
when Gramps is chomping at the bit from underneath you,
his Purple Heart swinging from the ventricles of his purple heart,
you remember that I was a good man
you let slip through your fingers.
A whuppin is a ritual.
I agree: a smack on the back of the head
borders on abuse.
But a whuppin?
A whuppin is an understanding.
Praying to leather belt gods,
extension cord deities,
flying shoes made missiles,
switches ripped from the arms of
Some of you
will not understand
what I am talking about.
Some of you
will nod your heads and
feel the breath of a ghost belt
whispering in your ears.
My mother was an educated woman
but she couldn’t count to save her life.
10 whuppins were frequently 13.
She blamed my squirming.
I blamed her Nelsonville education.
Vision borne from whuppin #233:
I have seen the skillet swing of a
short woman who doesn’t care
what you think
reaching for a son too tall
for bending over bedsides anymore;
Goliath slain by cast iron love.
And the difference between a
whuppin and abuse is
knowing when the lesson is over,
and knowing that in the swing
there is love
and in your calls for her
death between snivels,
you always knew the truth:
you deserved it.
You may not have deserved 13,
but 10 was your magic number.
I have seen the generation
that will not understand this poem,
that will see a victim in its author.
Allow me to make clear this much:
you have not been spared.
Your scars will come to you,
and one day,
you will look into a mirror,
and marvel at how much even
smooth skin can hide.
Every scar is not a welt that will not go away.
You may cut scars into your face with
laughter you do not mean and
to hide pains you cannot share.
I can talk to my mother;
I know her reach.
And it is deeper than skin
and the depth of a leather belt.
It is the distance between two hearts
that know what the other is capable of,
which is to say,
it is no distance at all.