When I was born, Nineveh was no longer the capital of an evil Assyrian empire.
It was a small town in the Midwest, straight out of Hoosiers.
With a mother seeking comfort, finding passing victory in Valium.
And a father consumed by work; entangled by emotions unexpressed.
Their friends put beer in my bottle and laughed
At the toddler toddling tipsy to the turf.
A picture in the school yearbook shows me at age three.
In the crowd at a basketball game,
Eyes riveted on the action; not reacting like others;
Searching for substance in the orange globe of a ball
As if God put it there.
Sports structured my days,
A soothing, sure escape.
Countless hours at the school playground
As Pistol Pete Maravich.
Each shot a last-second buzzer beater,
A ticket to immortality.
When my parents divorced,
I was made to choose where to live.
I chose Dad’s – where I could be free
To eat Braunsweiger and Nacho Cheese Doritos
Until I made myself sick.
Dad’s buddies came over to drink Budweiser,
One asked, “Do you like playing with yourself?”
I said, “Sure.”
He burst out laughing;
Spewing beer through his nose.
I moved in with Mom and Dan, my step-father.
He was an EMT and liked to carry guns.
We watched “Emergency” during dinner.
Dan yelled at the TV, shouting instructions.
They argued a lot – Mom and Dan.
One day, their yells reached a feverous pitch
their arms were raised.
I was struck by the image of a gun.
I felt a sharp stab in my gut and yelled out.
Dan looked at me
And decided my appendix had burst.
He rode with me in an ambulance to the hospital.
They diagnosed it as gastritis.
I believe it was the finger of God.
I was driven to succeed in high school
In sports and studies.
My senior year I discovered girls,
Paula in particular.
To date her, I had to go to church,
Which I gladly did.
She wanted more than kisses and cuddling.
I wanted more than her body had to offer.
At eighteen, I was on top of the world
But knew it was not a steady place to stand.
I had mono when I gave the graduation speech.
I talked about the need for faith,
With a runny nose.
I recited the poem “Richard Cory,” which begins,
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.