Before I was or am death comes for me rambunctious sloppy drunk death knocking over a headboard a mirror breaking a lamp or plate black blast to the ribs to her back belly uppercut that shakes the planet the lake the ocean the soup that I swim and float in becoming a typhoon while I bob like an upended boat but do not drown.
Before I am fully me death returns again sneaky bastard while I'm sleeping slumbering dreaming not snoring death and death's hand stabbing a thin metal rod into the milky cloud where I am hiding hibernating death poking and jabbing at the juice and fleshy walls tearing red gashes into this embryonic tent angling aiming for me a slippery fish who will not be so easily aborted.
After I am born the woman driving the car takes long pulls on her cigarette as if she's french kissing a snake made of smoke touching a finger to the edge of her white cat-eyed glasses "have I seen you before?" I say only saliva slips out over my lips like goo she is sad is annoyed she sneers down at me on the seat and says "what?" I recognize the voice I want to say "it's you isn't it? you're my mother?" but my words my thoughts are gurgles Gerber baby food the thunderbird trundles over some tracks then shuts off even though Charlie Pride goes on singing does my ring hurt your finger when you go out at night I want to ask "why are we stopping?" but bubbles—two or three floaters—slide out of my mouth instead this is where grandmother died not necessarily here but on a set of railroad tracks somewhere in the middle of the night no one knowing if it was an accident or on purpose I heard them talking—the one time they were civil instead of two angry attack dogs—making funeral arrangements maybe we will go like gran "mom we'd better move a train might come" those are the words in my constipated head that become nothing but soapsuds and blue breath on the way out of my mouth "I can tell I can just tell" mother says "you're going to be like all the rest a useless piece of shit."
I am in another car and the man who is my new dad who is not my real dad my blood dad he has the convertible caddie going very fast the car black as evening long like a parade float but sleek I wish the wind weren't so rough I wish I wasn't freezing I wish my brothers would stop saying "faster! faster!" I wish my mom would stop holding onto her head scarf and use it for a parachute a homemade airlift cape that could get us out of here but instead we go over a hill leaping the crest like a slow motion trout and I think this is where death will get me right here all of us together a bunch of broken bones bloody bits or a burnt out car nothing to do but scream and pray my soul escapes somehow.
The bathroom is the warmest pace the heat vent pours out air holding back holding down holding apart some of the noise it's not my favorite room because of the smell but I go there when they start to yell this time someone kissed someone else you cheating sonofabitch you bitch you bastard and there's hell to pay I'm a boy supposed to be a man already so I open the door in time to see his oiled obsidian hair glinting open in time to see him shoot an arrow into the closed kitchen window glass shattering breaking apart like angry glaciers and when he turns the bow to me I say to myself "be brave don't duck don't run don't hide we are done here."
I was too loud in church or not paying enough attention to the pastor or my room was dirty or my thoughts were dirty or I missed "Please" or wasn't grateful enough or just because because I say so because I'm in charge because this is my house because of some reason or other whatever reason any reason the belt swings and slashes wuuuh wuuuh wuuuh through the air leather helicopter blades that bite and sting but then it stops to be adjusted so the buckle is the end that rains metal teeth bronze nails hail hitting my head my shoulders my arms here's my heart cut it open go ahead make a mess of things get it over with I won't hate you if you are quick.
This guy can drink drinks like a fish a whale get him the funnel holy hell man how're you still standing he's my hero whatever you do don't crash on your back man sleep on your stomach remember Janice Joplin and Jimmie H if they say anything else to me it is oatmeal in my ears the stairs reach right up and slap me the halls hit me someone's got one arm someone the other and I fall a final time until there's light everything white but not heaven the nurse saying good morning young man I hope you know how lucky you are.
Hey bogart you got a death wish or what? that wasn't a line more like an avalanche yeah yeah I say wanting to say more but my face is numb down to the roots of my molars eyes jittery ice cubes nose runny or bleeding hair 4th of July sparklers twitching my scalp but none of that matters as much as my heart sprinting up and down the gym shoe stomps booming in my ears bouncing off one wall then the next make it stop make it stop no wait don't make it stop that's called dead just slow the pounding please what am I doing here anyway that guy has a thin hockey stick thingy with a boomerang end scraping green felt saying "seven seven out craps" and there are men around me my friends and strangers comic book patches 12 the hard way other numbers and squares dice die my friends my heart my friend what happens here stays here.
Blood taste like licking a rock when I open my eyes I see my eyes staring back at me in the rearview how did I get here why is my car stopped stalled hit something a curb lip swollen star fruit jaw sore must have hit the steering wheel hard no airbag should be dead what time is it I keep cheating time or it keeps throwing me a life line or maybe this is how it tortures me by keeping me alive why does everyone else want it so bad life?
This is not the same as the other times the other times death came for me now I am searching for it at five am in the pitch dark running miles getting in mileage before the marathon is the rationale I tell my wife here it comes sixty five going seventy speeding semi on my side of the road just a hitch a little jump is all it takes and SLAM SPLAT we're done here finally but that driver he has a wife too or a mom maybe maybe even one that loves him got to be fair play fair don't fuck it up for other people for other people death is what they run from not to.
The box is white a cream-colored coffin some irony there who called for an open casket is this somebody's idea of a joke we tell jokes my brothers and I in hushed tones out in the sober foyer us older almost too old to take no longer skinny barefoot boys but men with bellies bald heads grudges and our own bags of sins we shuffle inside no different than dust ourselves sit on the stone hard wooden pews settle unsettle cough spit fidget fart silently "she is with God" the man in glasses says is he a liar we sing about grace "when we've been here ten thousand years bright shining as the sun" and then I stand because I am called called the name I was given the one she gave me I walk down an aisle dip my head at the podium I speak do not slur do not tarry I tell the tarnished and the true I don't use bullets or blades but something falls away something dies inside of me a molting ghost carcass floating through stained glass as I inhale my first breath in this new skin.