Poetry / Stephen S. Mills
:: My Jesus Year ::
You wake me whispering, Foodtown is burning. And you don’t mean a town of food, but the grocery store around the corner. The one we’ve shopped at plenty of times, though it’s too expensive and no one can ever help you find what you’re looking for. You smell of the city mixed with the news of this burning, which makes me ask questions, which you don’t know the answers to. And suddenly I’m lost in a wave of grief for a place I didn’t even like, or maybe it’s just the fear of fire deep in my bones—something prehistoric— a burning so close by, but not here— not in this room—not in this apartment in Harlem with our two dogs. Always a step away. * New Year’s Eve. Us in Times Square. You in your uniform. Me with whisky on my breath. Us like some post-WWII poster. And then the countdown. And the ball sliding all glitz and lights like all the years I watched from home: a kid in Indiana dreaming of a city I’d never been to, dreaming of you: a man I didn’t know yet, dreaming of a life that sometimes feels too real now, and then how the confetti fell from the sky like giant raindrops— or was it shrapnel? * By the boarded-up store, locals bob in the dumpster collecting canned goods thrown away by law though nothing is wrong with them. Carts fill with the clang of metal and glass and then a jar breaks free and olives flood the sidewalk: slick green. No one cares. I smile as more cans pop over the side into eager hands. The sky is dimming into evening. The air still thick with burning. * Last week we sat in a theater and watched Patrick Bateman wonder (in song) if he’s just a version of the end of days, standing on the brink of human destruction—killing to feel alive—wanting someone to stop him, but no one will. And I wonder about my own days, my own end, my own bend toward self-destruction: a redheaded temper or so they used to call it. Or what of my desire to throw things against walls? To watch them shatter? Not everything thrown starts a revolution. You should know that. * The woman on the corner is selling futures for 5 dollars outside the abandoned coffee shop on 7th Ave. and 27th St., but I want to know how much the past is. How much to go backward. To explain how I got here on this street corner on this day looking at this woman in her scarf and beads. But she doesn’t have answers or prices for what has been, only what will be. Five dollars will tell me what’s in store: fortune or despair, but not the missteps that got me here, not the story of these thirty-three years. * And there’s a garden in this tale too, but far away from here. Another country. A bust of her head. Her own room. Flowers and herbs. Old women on benches and one inside who is eager to a chat about Virginia, about the age of the stove, the pieces in the room, how it would have been when they bought it— in what? 1919, was it? And how we long to buy something here in this city. Not a cottage, but an apartment in Harlem where we will dance, my hand in yours, the dogs growing excited beneath our feet. Where someday someone might wonder if this is how it was when they lived here? * I meet you in the street after work, after another night at the sex club where I talk to men about fucking about risk, about connection. Where I test men for HIV and syphilis, where drops of blood tell the future—or is it the past? The present? Or maybe all three at once? And tonight, the city is quiet or as quiet as New York gets at 1 AM on a weekday. The Freedom Tower looks propped against the sky like a backdrop to a musical— the summer rain from earlier has left everything turned to steam—a dream. A drunk homeless man smiles at us, stubbles a bit, then says, Good morning from Europe. * On the subway, a boy—five—maybe six— opens a blue lunchbox containing one inflated medical glove: a bloated hand, which he uses to bop his mother, the side of the train car, his own head. His mother’s nails are all gold and glitter. She doesn’t respond, so he stops, turns to watch a passing train speed ahead of us, or are we speeding passed it? It’s always so hard to tell. * And just like that the store rebuilds, restocks, reopens. And we rise up from the dead. Fill the aisles like before. Clang our baskets together. And start again.
From the writer
:: Account ::
My poems often represent how I see the world (my lens) and how my mind shifts and melds pieces together. I’m interested in that moment of intersection: a moment when pieces of our memory and experience touch each other. We walk around each day with a mind full of these fragments that sometimes surprise or even scare us. In this poem, I attempt to capture that process around a central theme: my 33rd year of life. The poem builds on what comes before but also allows for the unexpected or for the mind to jump. My work often begins in something real (like the fire at a local grocery store in my neighborhood) but can then go into many different directions. Research and other mediums (theater, film, literature) are also an important part of my process.
Stephen S. Mills is the author of the Lambda Award-winning book He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2012) and A History of the Unmarried (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014). He earned his MFA from Florida State University. His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, PANK, The New York Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, Knockout, Assaracus, The Rumpus, and others. He is also the winner of the 2008 Gival Press Oscar Wilde Poetry Award and the 2014 Christopher Hewitt Award for Fiction. He lives in New York City. Website: http://www.stephensmills.com/