Transubstantiation

Matthew Dickman - 1975-
My mother is taking 
me to the store 
because it’s hot out and I’m sick and want a popsicle. All the other kids
are at school sitting 
in rows of small desks, looking 
out the window. 
She is wearing one of those pantsuits 

with shoulder pads 
and carrying a purse with a checkbook. We are holding hands, standing in 
front of the big automatic doors 
which silently swing open 
so we can 
walk in together, so we can 
step out of the heat and step 

into a world of fluorescent light and cool, cool air. 
Then, as if a part of the heat 
had suddenly broken off, 
had become its own power, a man 
places his arm around her 
shoulders but also around her neck 
and she lets go of my hand and pushes me 
away. Pushes me toward 

the safety of the checkout line. Then the man begins to yell. 
And then the man begins to cry. 
The pyramid 
of canned beans in front of me 
is so perfect 
I can’t imagine anyone needing beans 
bad enough 
to destroy it. The man is walking my mother 

down one aisle and then another aisle 
and then another 
like a father dragging
his daughter toward a wedding he cannot find. 
Everyone is 
standing so still. All you can hear
is my mom pleading
and the sound of the air conditioner like Shhhhhhhhhh.

More by Matthew Dickman

Ghost Story

for matthew z and matthew r
I remember telling the joke
about child molestation and seeing
the face of the young man
I didn't know well enough 
turn from something with light
inside of it into something like
an animal that's had its brain
bashed in, something like that, some
sky inside him breaking 
all over the table and the beers.
It's amazing, finding out
my thoughtlessness has no bounds,
is no match for any barbarian, 
that it runs wild and hard
like the Mississippi. No, the Rio Grande.
No, the Columbia. A great river
of thorns and when this stranger
stood up and muttered
something about a cigarette, 
the Hazmat team 
in my chest begins to cordon 
off my heart, glowing
a toxic yellow, 
and all I could think about
was the punch line "sexy kids,"
that was it, "sexy kids," and all the children
I've cared for, wiping
their noses, rocking them to sleep,
all the nieces and nephews I love, 
and how no one ever 
opened me up like a can of soup
in the second grade, the man
now standing on the sidewalk, smoke smothering
his body, a ghost unable 
to hold his wrists down 
or make a sound like a large knee in between 
two small knees, but terrifying and horrible all the same.

Maine Seafood Company

(Salt)

A LOBSTER.
           Once out of the box
           The wooden box
           The metal box
           The box, the box, the box
           Dragged up from the salt

           Things don't feel too bad

           And then they do

           And then they don't

(And waves)

Coffee

The only precious thing I own, this little espresso
cup. And in it a dark roast all the way
from Honduras, Guatemala, Ethiopia
where coffee was born in the 9th century
getting goat herders high, spinning like dervishes, the white blooms
cresting out of the evergreen plant, Ethiopia
where I almost lived for a moment but
then the rebels surrounded the Capital
so I stayed home. I stayed home and drank
coffee and listened to the radio
and heard how they were getting along. I would walk
down Everett Street, near the hospital
where my older brother was bound
to his white bed like a human mast, where he was
getting his mind right and learning
not to hurt himself. I would walk by and be afraid and smell
the beans being roasted inside the garage
of an old warehouse. It smelled like burnt
toast! It was everywhere in the trees. I couldn’t bear to see him.
I sometimes never knew him. Sometimes
he would call. He wanted us
to sit across from each other, some coffee between us,
sober. Coffee can taste like grapefruit
or caramel, like tobacco, strawberry,
cinnamon, the oils being pushed
out of the grounds and floating to the top of a French Press,
the expensive kind I get
in the mail, the mailman with a pound of Sumatra
under his arm, ringing my doorbell,
waking me up from a night when all I had was tea
and watched a movie about the Queen of England when Spain was hot
for all her castles and all their ships, carved out
of fine Spanish trees, went up in flames
while back home Spaniards were growing potatoes
and coffee was making its careful way
along a giant whip
from Africa to Europe
where cafes would become famous
and people would eventually sit with their cappuccinos, the baristas
talking about the new war, a cup of sugar
on the table, a curled piece of lemon rind. A beret
on someone’s head, a scarf
around their neck. A bomb in a suitcase
left beneath a small table. Right now
I’m sitting near a hospital where psychotropics are being
carried down the hall in a pink cup,
where someone is lying there and he doesn’t know who
he is. I’m listening
to the couple next to me
talk about their cars. I have no idea
how I got here. The world stops at the window
while I take my little spoon and slowly swirl the cream around the lip
of the cup. Once, I had a brother
who used to sit and drink his coffee black, smoke
his cigarettes and be quiet for a moment
before his brain turned its Armadas against him, wanting to burn down
his cities and villages, before grief
became his capital with its one loyal flag and his face,
perhaps only his beautiful left eye, shimmered on the surface of his Americano
like a dark star.

Related Poems

Beyond the East Gate

I listen to the voice of the cricket,
loud in the quiet night,
warning me
not to mistake a hill for a mountain.

I need to be alone,
in a private house with doors that open only outward,
safe from strangers who smell of death,
where I can draft a universe under my eyelids
and let nothing invade it.

I want to sing a fugue
sounding like the genius of flowers
talking to leaves on their stems,
to have more concrete meaning
than even the dance of a child in my uterus.
I'm a lost and primitive priestess
wandering in a walled city of the wrong century.
I need to spend thirty years in the desert
before I will understand the sun,
thirty years at sea
to gather the blessing of salt and water.

In the back room of my skull
a secret dice game determines
the rites of my hands
before they touch flesh again.
I want to reach a peace I've never known,
to be an old woman who is very young,
a child who is a sage
come down from the mountain.