Jeffrey McDaniel

The Difference between Right and Wrong

Bladder is a weird word for where the urine gets stored.
It’s just a holding station. A malleable flask.
Also, has taking a number two ever reminded you
of that scene in an action flick, when the bottom
of the military plane opens up and the soldiers plunge out?
Me either. But wouldn’t it be cool if each launched turd
had a tiny white parachute that bloomed as it descended
into the basin. And hair? Is there a little farmer between the ribs
who grows it, then sends it to different parts of the body?
Take this up to the scalp, boss. And these tiny threads to the arms and legs.
And this coarser stuff to the pits. And this fine batch down to the gennies.
And these loose strands to the knuckles. And this woven scarf to the brows.
If not, then where does hair come from? Case in point: the forearm.
Are there hair seeds, pre-planted in strips, that emerge
when a person screeches into puberty? And don’t even
get me started on the mysteries of breast milk.
Remember that scene at the end of The Grapes of Wrath,
where that lady breast feeds the starving man? Some kid
in seventh grade convinced me the title referred to a starving man’s
testicles. The balls shrivel when you don’t eat. The balls
are the first to go. Of course, that evening I went on a secret hunger strike.
But after twenty-three hours I didn’t notice a difference.
They were the same .73 pounds when I late-night lowered
my hairless walnuts onto the family scale, placed strategically
on the kitchen table. What are you doing down there, my father yelled
down the stairs. Just getting a cookie, I yelled back. But why
did you bring the scale, he asked. Just trying to tell the difference
between right and wrong, I said. Ok, he said, hugging me
when I got to the top of the stairs, muffling a sob into my shoulder.

When the Cat’s Away

When the cat’s away, the mice
will slip on party hats
and sneak into the liquor cabinet.
When the cows are away,
the milk bucket will bathe
in moonlight. Little pitchers have large ears,
said the mother pointing at the ceiling.
Little silences have big echoes,
said the stoned composer.
Little kisses have a way of growing
into big penises, said the grandmother
on prom night. Little leaks sink a ship
yelled the captain, seawater on his lips.
A little knowledge is a dangerous dress
to wear to a night club, said the father
in little socks. Little strokes fell great oaks,
said the papercut lashing
into your finger. Little things
please little minds, said the pervert
staring at himself in the mirror.
Little thieves are hanged, but big thieves escape,
cackled Creigh, as my younger brothers
were whisked away in the paddy wagon.

JEFFREY MCDANIEL is the author of six collections of poetry. His newest book is Holiday in the Islands of Grief from the University of Pittsburgh Press. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in the Hudson Valley.

More by Jeffrey McDaniel:

Poems in the February 2020 issue
Poem in the April 2015 issue
Poem in the November 2013 issue
Poem in the August 2013 issue