My Jesus Year

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: