There Are Rules in Life
like be kind. put the toilet seat down after use.
wear shoes and a shirt to receive service,
do the right thing always. even when you don’t know
which thing is the right thing. the onus is on you to do it—
it’s like my dad did. or tried to do. or tried
to teach me as he said this is not a beating
it is a spanking and boy there is a difference— sometimes
but always in that chasm is some kind of lesson.
the night before my college graduation,
i am getting ready to stop. after my third glass of straight tequila,
which i had after my first glass of straight tequila,
which i had after a margarita. all of which i had after 5 beers.
and i remember there are rules to this shit
i promised my sister i would stop after 3,
figured it’s all good so long as i paused
after every third drink but this is not how rules work.
my dad watched his dad and his uncles,
who i call my uncles, each drown their consciousness
shallow in bottles. he promised his father
he would never drink. in the gaps
between whips of his belt dad said don’t
you ever. lie. to me. ever. again.
and somewhere in there is a lesson.
my sister says i take after my uncle,
slender with a back that bends forward
like a coconut tree in the breeze,
the one who, daily, drinks himself into
a place of peace. i drink when i feel pieces of myself
drifting. sometimes it takes leaving yourself to
leave behind hurt as well. but i’m waking up
in the morning and isn’t that it’s own discipline?
once, my other uncle once sliced a fresh, fat avocado with his breakfast
dropped his eyes down to where the beans lay on his plate
cut the silence only to say, you know boy
we’re all screwed up. every damn one of us.
when i was a kid i played a game. pretended
that each member of my family had died. the rule was
that i stopped once i drew real tears.
it always ended on my dad’s turn.
now that i am older i only imagine his eulogy
i’d like to say that he was a man who did the right thing.
like i did the right thing.
even when i did not know
what the right thing was.
even when the both of us were wrong.
The Author Explains JJ Fish & Chicken to His Younger Siblings OR the Chicken Shack as Church OR Angels With 6 Piece Wings
imagine everyone that once held you
their hands trembling
as they wished the whole world open at your arrival
consider those who carried them before
and those who carried them
seated at a table wide enough for us all
& we are a cascade of hands clasped
a row of heads bowed
may we pray our wonder bread soak the chicken grease just right
that our wings come with more than 3 of those small ass containers of mild sauce
that our fries stay crunchy from the shack to home
this chicken joint right here ain’t just no restaurant
the sound of wings anointing in the oil of canola
smell of lemon pepper salt a prelude to how it will soon swirl across your tongue
grease dripping from the walls
back in the day we had jj’s maybe once a week
or once a month depending what money came in from daddy work
he bought enough wings to keep us fed for the night
a tray of fifty would keep us on
through to the next morning
before school we watched the fries
& other fried things warming in the oven
some okra on occasion if we was feeling fancy
pack it in some foil with a tortilla from gram & there’s lunch
i know you seent a service before
what is more holy than this
gathering all that you love
& asking it to feast on its own joy
the crunch of manna sounding like its own psalm
a soul stirrers serenade like sam ain’t ever left from this earth
singing something bout six wings
& a lord of plenty
a lord of the forever seconds
of the sweet baby ray’s for when the mild sauce run out
of the bulletproof glass at the shop’s counter
may it be to protect our wings from the devil’s theft
may we unwrap our erasure from our own mouths
replace it with a gospel holy as our black
may that gospel be black as south side
as the lot next door
rubble from the house fire n all
sitting atop the dirt
like it ain’t no ground holy enough to keep us under
like this soil is only what our ancestors grew us up out of
like we growing right here til we grow wings for flight
like we only flying nearer to our lord
never away from nothing
& each word from our lips is holy
holy praise be
to the Southside
to these wings