Nothing’s Shocking

Write something tough, you say?
Tough? Like what?
Like the ability to ignore hunger?
Always a feat.
Like no sleep whatsoever?
Sleep, after all, is a sign of weakness. If I could I would cut it from my head.

Tough like old men in sneakers wearing shades and postal uniforms?
Tough like my bedframe, sharp corners and all banged up?
Tough like wooden socks… like a silkscreen: impenetrable.
Tough like a vagina with hymen intact.
Tough like my thighs. Like a vise. Like advice.
Like anise. A knife. An anus. Not nice.

I’ve spent my life trying to be less tough.
There’s a football helmet on my heart and I can’t throw the game away.
The horror of heads being blown to bits? No bother.
Blood is just an ornament.
My real fears?
I cringe at wicker furniture!

So it’s useless, you see. My poems are soft because nothing else in me is.
I have to peel myself into poetry like a potato.
Some need steel nerves to write the word fuck. Hard to talk about a cadaver, or use a racial slur, or speak of repeated sacrifices.
Not for me.
I could write about dead babies all day but my inner censor hiccups over things like

It takes more than you’d think to get poetry from me.
It takes more than porn, guts, gossip.
It takes more than hangnails, finely filed with a needle, or papercuts, just a page away.
It takes more than scrubbing someone’s shit off the wall.
It takes more than germs—what’s another infection?—and more than self-mutilation.
It takes more than photographs of skin disease, than monumental sex toys, than a mullet. More than kiddie vomit.
It takes more.

I’m tough. I hop from object to offensive object like a literary flea.
I must drink wine, however, to smooth myself out and create words beyond whatever.
Dead babies? Blasphemy? Gangfucking?
I’m in love?
Now I’m feeling risky.
Wring me out like a washrag.
Throw glass bottles through my windows.
Scratch your nails. Give me stings.
Shoot me like a riot.


‘Nothing’s Shocking’ was published in Volume 64 of the New York Quarterly.