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June 8, 2017 | Poetry

Four Poems

Jason Phoebe Rusch

Four Poems photo

Gender

As a girl I played with dolls, sang
soprano, wore sparkly eyeshadow from
Claire’s. It never felt good to be called sir.
Once a woman saw my short hair
from the back and mistook me for
a boy. I was twelve, mortified,
wishing only for my period and breasts
to arrive. But I also sensed another me
shifting around sometimes, vestigial
twin in a sac, semi-permeable membrane
protecting what I didn’t want to know:
not the kind of man to drink beer
or watch sports but a Freddie Mercury man,
eyes lined with kohl, strutting in tight pants,
an Elton John in furs, corseted Frankenfurter
seducing Janet with his black stockings
and pelvic thrust. I was always the first
to get naked at slumber parties and dare
the other girls to exhibit too. I humped
pillows, drew breasts and hips in the sketchbook
I carried until some mean kid found it on the floor
and my whole grade called me a pervert. Years later
I’d imagine fucking girls while reaching fingers
inside myself and agree. It makes no sense,
imagining penetrating another with parts
I don’t have while penetrating the parts I do,
it feels good and is sick.

I am older now and still wear eyeshadow
sometimes, others not. It depends on the day,
the angle of light, to tell me how I will feel
most holy, most whole.

 

My Father Has Theories

Pharmaceutical companies invented AIDs to shake down the third world. Media has demonized George Zimmerman to inflame racial tension. The C.I.A. devised hippie counter-culture as a psy-op to discredit the legitimate anti-war movement. We know this because Jim Morrison and several members of the Mamas and the Papas were all military brats, all lived in Laurel Canyon. It should go without saying that 9/11 was an inside job, but my father still wants to tell you about it when you answer the door, pull money out of your wallet to pay for your pizza.

Aspirin caused most of the deaths in the 1918 influenza epidemic. The holocaust happened, but the atrocities were wildly exaggerated. L. Ron Hubbard refuted psychiatric pseudo-science. Gay people are spiritually confused, troubled by unresolved past life traumas. My father’s own chronic neck pain is due to his death by axe-blow in ancient China. Reparations make no sense because he could have been a slave in a past life. Men are the primary victims of rape and domestic abuse in America.

A scourge of misinformation is afoot, the disseminators gathering nebulous. There is no loneliness like knowledge, like prophecy. My father shook from the voltage of it, conviction distending the veins in his neck as he preached his gospel to me, his child, listening in the car seat or perched on the edge of his bed. A strange inheritance, this bad news, and I but one person to spread it throughout the world.

 

 

Erotic Jealousy

As an anxious fourteen-year old
I took an online quiz to tell me
if I was a lesbian, with questions
like: when you look at a hot girl,
do you feel a) jealous or b) turned
on? There was no third option.

 

 

Scientologist Family Counseling

When I put out matches on my arms at fifteen, believing myself unworthy
of life, my father told me I was lower on the emotional tone scale
than he was, he being the smiling sun with its thumb up its butt,
5.0, serenity of being,

me being the sad Prozac rock, negative
2.5 or 3 or 4, covert hostility or utter doldrums or vindictive
harpy with face of ex-wife never truly loved. He couldn’t
be my father

anymore, he said, although it had been nice knowing
me. He was smug serene sun, not sick man conned
and I was disobedient dog, liable
to strike. Teenage girls are
such amoral creatures, mercurial
as the doldrums.

Still, deciding this shearing too final, he took me
to a second floor walk-up with plush
carpeting, where I learned about suppressive
persons and thought he might be one,
where a man with a cleft chin and casino eyes
asked me the last time I’d been happy
while the e-meter read the electrical
charges in my palms, swinging the needle
of my own uncontrollable psychic accord.

The steady question ticking time regardless
of answer. When were you last happy, when
were you last happy, when were you last
happy?
Boots marching in unison,
ineluctable tide rolling, lungs saying, fuck it,
let’s accept this swill. I answered, I answered:
Eating an ice cream cone, talking to a boy
I liked, re-reading a favorite book, all
unsatisfactory, wrong keys wrong doors.

Next, my father and I sat in straight-backed chairs
across from each other, instructed not to confront
with body part: not with blinking or with sigh,
with finger twitch or lip curl or else cleft-chin called
Flunk! Or else we started over, from where we began.

Next, same routine, plus passages from Alice
in Wonderland
, read in voices neither too monotone nor
too animated, or else flunk! Next, bull-baiting: my father
making faces, flinging insults, no reaction or else flunk!
You may think this hyperbole, it is not.

And so too, at home: me spooning extra sugar into Cheerios
while my father intoned, for what part of this incident are you
responsible, for what part of this incident are you responsible,
for what part of this incident are you responsible
, incident
meaning dissolution of relationship, ours, and so too in his car,
before dropping me off at my mother’s house, driving loops
around the block, locking the doors until I answered
but no answer ever satisfied, and I must admit I have found
no answers for my father, the way he is, cannot say whether
religion, ersatz and predatory, is symptom or cause
of all the questions that still run like tapes, spooling and un-
spooling within me.

 

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