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