She was a teenager, teenagers say things, provoke a father to say things, things impossible to take back, things impossible to forget. He couldn’t forgive her or himself and neither could she.
A lifetime later the grown daughter sits with her father, riddled with old age illnesses, forgives him so he can forgive himself a moment before he dies.
My daughter and I sitting on the couch, both of us 20 years younger than the actors on the screen. Both of us sobbing forgiveness. We hug before it’s too late.
Guinotte Wise The Dancing Men
1. Gliding Man
Jesse Owens beat the Germans in thirty-six, a blur before Hitler, a slur to the folly. My old man, though white, was almost as fast.
But now he wore a three-piece suit and worked in haberdashery.
He wore a three-piece suit and sold suits. And hats. Long ovals. Seven mediums. Cufflinks.
And he danced like a ballroom apollo. Cuffed and pleated. I saw him dance like a ghost, alone, arms up, one encircling his incorporeal partner.
From room to room in the old deco stucco house, rooms divided by heavy velvet curtains. Fans going. Oscillating. The sound of them, now I realize what I miss. Or the old man humming Cole Porter. The years swallowed that up.
A storm outside drove me in. Fat chance raindrops, summer on hold. I fled deliciously to safe and sound and watched from curtained corners.
And the man he danced and glided, slid whirling from room to room as though on tracks like my electric train. One arm out handholding an imaginary hand lightly moist. A hand on the lower back of his next adventure. Her head flung back in laughter.
And thunder sounded like far off box cars bumping bumping one another off into now.
Katherine McCormick Thoughts on My Father
In the shady afternoons before they arrived, I slid a threadbare footstool to the basin and reached still-chubby fingers to the medicine chest where the box of shaving potions and magic brushes lived.
And breathed in the spice and tang from the forever-wet tip. And painted my face with imaginary foam.
I imagined I was hi-ho off to work and slapped elixir from the crimson sailboats on my cheeks, inhaled the smell of him, which lingered everywhere – the ratty green towel next to the sink, his worn blue robe than drooped from a peg in lifeless tribute to a weary man.
I felt him holding me as I stood peered glass, hoped he would walk up from behind and follow me to the yard where I climbed the leaning eucalyptus or hid between the skin-prickling bushes and watched the cars arrive and crowd together, too close, like surging fans swelling toward a stage, to step in the spotlight, to be part of a show.
I think he was there – a ribbon of scent from an enchanted bottle that I’d visit each day and one time stole to put under my pillow.
Denzel Xavier Scott The Silver Tray
There’s a moment in my life so small, intimate, and trivial to the onlooker that it’s like the dust that encrusts newly opened eyes. To this day it still fills my brain with twisting thorns, all injury and no reward. When I finished my second year at the University of Chicago in 2010, I was nineteen years old. I was nineteen, single, and newly broken up with my boyfriend David, my first real boyfriend. We dated for a month before David decided we were better off as friends. He left me at the end of spring quarter, just before summer started. I’d returned to my hometown of Savannah, GA for a week or two during the summer vacation. That meant the obligatory Sunday trips to church with my grandmother and my father, our pastor.
It was communion Sunday that time in our little church of rose red carpeting, bone white walls, and whiskey brown pews. A silver tray was passed to me by one of our most active deacons, Mr.Willie Ponder, with the body of Christ supposedly scattered on it. I looked in and saw none. All I heard in my head were screams.
The body of Christ was gone. It was there in the tray because everyone in the little church expected for me to take one. The little wafers were just hidden from my gaze. I didn’t want to reach my hand in to blindly search, scrambling around for something I felt that Deacon Ponder could see, but I could not. I saw only the wide rim edge and the silver bottom of the tray from the angle where I sat. It was clear as a mirror. The wafers were perfectly hidden from me as if they lined the walls of the tray like white bricks stacked on top of each other. Without reaching my hand in, I couldn’t confirm.
As time seemed to slow all around, rational thought deserted me. What was left, what lingered in the nether regions of my psyche, was the belief that God had done this to me. God had done this to me in front of these church folk, in front of my father. It was all for the fulfillment of his justice I supposed. God hid these little wafers from my sight that tasted like cardboard to punish me. I couldn’t think of anything else. God hid them, my way to salvation, because I had broken the promise I made when I was thirteen-years-old.
Once upon a time, I had bargained with God for my life in a dead man’s room. I had prostrated myself in that little room in my great grandmother’s house in Charleston, SC. Tear drenched, and wide-eyed in frenzy, I had offered back the homosexuality that either God or the Devil had blessed me with. A single promise. A single lifetime. Yet seven celibate years of my youth shattered like a mirror when David accepted my affections.
I kept David a secret from my father, knowing he wouldn’t understand. I kept David a secret even as my father looked at me then on that communion Sunday. He looked at me with his watery fish eyes under his sweaty brow as I began to tear up before the silver tray. I would not confess and end my suffering. I kept David a secret buried deep down in my heart. I had refused to accept the words my father had told me at sixteen, “A gay child is a useless child.” It took me a few years to realize not even the dead are useless, so long as they had been. Even if for a single moment, flesh, immature, or malformed, or lifeless altogether, had met the light and mingled with the air, it wasn’t useless. To say that a child is a useless child means that child never existed.
I kept David a secret so that my father who raised me with the words of God, would still love me. On that day, there I was about to cry before this silver tray. It was like the severed head of John the Baptist was served before me. It was as if I, and not Salome, requested it. And my father looked down on me from the podium in confusion, definitely, in disgust, possibly, and said, “Denzel doesn’t understand, just keep going.”
So Deacon Ponder, with his rough, blue black hands dressed in white cotton gloves passed me by. The silver tray went on to someone else. They ate what I could not, and I felt God whispered to me then that he would come to me no more. A chance for salvation tossed aside because of a boy who didn’t even love me. A chance for salvation lost for a boy who wouldn’t remember me as the years went by. I sat alone in the last pew, closest to the door, trying not to flee my own idiotic disgrace. Why did God abandon me then and not before?
David wasn’t the first person I’d kissed. That sloppy wet tragedy happened in 1996 when I was six years old. I was baptized with a kiss in a white, featureless boy’s bathroom at Garrison Elementary. The kiss was with another dark-skinned black boy named Squire, who had crazy aggressive eyes and a bouquet of charming facial scars. I’ll never know why his mouth was so disgustingly wet, smeared Georgia peaches wet, or why he felt the need to do it. I knew sex from the pornography my teenage uncle thought he watched alone, not kissing.
David wasn’t the first person I’d had sex with. That honor belonged to my caramel colored step-cousin. We were both 13 years old, sparking the session in a wrestling match where he grinded his small pencil thin erection into my bigger one. It lasted about two hours. We moved from the front room where anyone could walk in and catch us, to the bathroom, to the laundry room upstairs, and finally my grandmother’s bedroom next door. We danced through position after position, as if we were well versed in the Kama Sutra. The longest we paused was when he called me fat. I didn’t know I had the right to stop, to say no, so we kept having sex. We kept having sex in my grandmother’s house, in Savannah, GA, my childhood sanctuary, 6 months or so before his aunt, my step-mother died. I cried in the mirror immediately after we had sex. I expected to be different and I wasn’t. The amorphous element of beauty I knew before, that allowed me to walk between the feminine and masculine was gone. I could no longer recognize it in my reflection. I was holy no more. Just open flesh— pulsating scarlet smelling like rust.
David was my boyfriend for a month at the University of Chicago during my second year, then the end. He was my first and is still my only. He was a redhead of angelic curls with golden arm hair. He was slightly older than me, but a year behind. David was definitely smarter than I was when it came to math and science, being a biology major with a keen interest in neurology. His only flaw in my eyes was his obsession with kittens and puns. I was proud of myself for the first time in his creamy arms, peppered by coffee stain freckles. He chose to be with me and only me, even after learning so much about me. We met in a support group in which I was the most frequent confessor. He said I was beautiful, with my contrasting darkness and my nappy crown.
We fell asleep in each other’s arms as we shared my single sized bed, not really meant for two. My roommate discovered us, thought he was walking in on something, but he wasn’t.
We blew each other for hours in my boyfriend’s apartment styled single where I always made him cum right before dawn, but he never could return the favor. That was probably more my fault than his. I was afraid I couldn’t stay hard, so I thought about my erection more than the moment I was in, or the pleasure I experienced. I didn’t want him to humiliate me. Later, I’d always apologize.
That must have felt insulting to him. I could cum all alone, watching people on a computer screen fuck like animals on cue with no affection. It’s something to dwell on at least. All the years I’ve been alive I never learned to cum with someone else. I withhold, as if somehow it allows me to slow my fall from grace. Same childish logic I used when I was seven to justify my lust. I could be gay and yet still be holy. If only one part of me was sinless, I could still pray with that part and be free once more. I wonder if any part of me is still sinless, or am I thoroughly soaked through? I guess only God knows, and I suppose that’s what matters.
Carl "Papa" Palmer of Old Mill Road in Ridgeway VA now lives in University Place WA. He has a 2015 contest winning poem riding buses somewhere in Seattle. Carl is a Pushcart Prize and Micro Award nominee. MOTTO: Long Weekends Forever
Guinotte Wise wrote a book (Night Train, Cold Beer) of short stories at his farm in Resume Speed, KS where he welds and writes. It won, got published to not much acclaim. It's on Amazon. He got the soffits fixed with the money. Black Opal Books published his next book, a thriller (Ruined Days) also on Amazon and other booksellers. A second collection of short stories, Resume Speed, will be released by Black Opal Books in June 2016. His stories and poems have appeared in forty some literary reviews including Atticus, The MacGuffin, Prick of the Spindle and Best New Writers Anthology 2015. His wife has an honest job in the city and drives 100 miles a day to keep it
Katherine McCormick is a writer, visual artist, and self-proclaimed creativity junkie. Her work has most recently been published or is forthcoming in The Red Earth Review, Literary Orphans, Right Hand Pointing: One Sentence Poems, The Lantern, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Red Fez, The Phoenix Soul, and the anthology The Dark Ones: Tales and Poems of the Shadow Gods. Katherine holds bachelor’s degrees in Anthropology and Psychology from UCLA and the University of Maryland, and is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing at Lindenwood University, where she served as a poetry editor for The Lindenwood Review. In addition to being a bibliophile and writing fanatic, Katherine is a poetry editor for TAMSEN, fitness freak, lover of vegan cooking, dedicated volunteer for humanist and social justice causes, NaNoWriMo winner, and all-around spunky gal. She currently lives with her husband their four daughters on the Eastern Shore of rural Maryland near the water, cornfields, and not much else.
Denzel Xavier Scott earned his BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago and recently received his Writing MFA at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in his hometown of Savannah, GA. The best way to describe Denzel’s aesthetic is through the language of Peter O’Leary, his first creative writing instructor at the University of Chicago. He told Denzel that he writes “nightmarish landscapes” with “the language of pageantry.” It’s true. Denzel is a great lover of the macabre, opulent, and dramatic. His works appear in Bombay Gin literary magazine of Naropa University, the Missing Slate literary magazine, Apeiron Review, based out of Philadelphia, the Gambler Mag, based out of New Orleans, and Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal. Any day now, Spillway literary magazine will also be printing a poem of his for their Summer 2016 issue.