JR Mahung

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



tell me


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 JJ’s


to these wings