Tom C. Hunley

Two-Foot Tall Poem

I’m in a homey coffee shop in a strange town
next door to a famous indie bookstore
that’s supposed to be open but isn’t,
and I’m shopping for images, as Ginsberg would have it,
searching for inspiration, as it were, 
when this toddler toddles up to my table
and says Hi over and over, like fifty times,
or maybe he’s saying high because honestly
he’s behaving like a meth head who just got
out of a mental hospital, but it’s okay because he’s little, 

so I smile at his mom and sit still in an effort to convey
that I’m a friendly stranger, patient, kid-loving,
but not a creepy stranger, candy in pockets, kid-loving
in a whole other, disturbing way, but I’m thinking
maybe she should pull him away, teach him wariness,
and I’m thinking he’s interrupting my creative process,
as it were, but then I remember another coffeeshop 
where I saw a minister of my acquaintance
at a table with some college students,
when a meth head just out of a mental hospital

approached their table, and the minister, who always
seemed creepy to me, who, as it turns out, 
was actually committing adultery with an intern,
one of the folks at that very table, said to the meth head/mental patient
We’re praying here, even though their eyes were all open,
and you’ve got me, I invented the meth head/mental patient,
it was me approaching their table, just to say hi but also 
because I was going through some shit, I forget what, exactly,
one way or another going through life like a bug
that had just been stepped on and was trying to avoid

getting stepped on again and smushed entirely,
and I remember thinking I could be the answer to their prayer 
if the prayer was Dear Lord, bring us someone in need
of being ministered to, as I did feel the need for some
ministration, and thinking of that coffeeshop
while sitting in this coffeeshop, I realize that this kid
is my poem, a two-foot tall poem, hitting its head 
on my table, then crawling back to his mom,
who now scowls at me like I’m some god
who could have kept her son, or my own, safe.

Ankylosing Spondylitis 

“What’s your pain level on a scale of 1-10?”

1. This week six different medical paraprofessionals and three computers asked me for my date of birth. My date of birth hurts because it will be forgotten, and the date of my death hurts because it goes unrecognized every year.

2. My hips feel like an accordion that a demon monkey is playing.

3. My back feels like an egg with a baby pterodactyl inside trying to claw its way out. I mean I couldn’t be better.

4. MRI, DMV, and department meeting all on the same day as my manuscript gets rejected.

5. When Everybody Hurts by REM comes on the radio, I want to punch Michael Stipe in the nuts and force him, at gunpoint, to sing the chorus again. I feel like what that chorus would sound like.

6. Like a version of Ground Hog Day in which Bill Murray’s character was in a car accident yesterday but has to go to work today anyway. I mean I’m fine, and you?

7. Sort of the physical equivalent of the distress I felt when some dude filmed and distributed nudes of my daughter.

8. You don’t want to know. I mean I’m good, thanks.

9. I feel the way that dude who sold nudes of my daughter would have felt if I’d caught up with him, knowing I could exact revenge with no legal penalties.

10. You really don’t want to know.

TOM C. HUNLEY is the author, most recently, of The Loneliest Whale in the World, a full-length collection forthcoming from Terrapin Books and Abridged: Erasure Poems, a chapbook forthcoming from Kelsay Books. He also wrote the short film, You’re Not Alone, currently in postproduction with Forerunner TV, Inc.

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