POEM IN WHICH NOTHING BAD EVER HAPPENS TO ME
I make the train.
And get the job
and pay my rent on time
and don’t get too drunk and don’t send a text
I shouldn’t and always use a condom.
The car does not make an illegal left turn and I do not have to brake hard to avoid it and I do not fly off my bike and flip several feet in the air and I do not land thinking not on my face not on my face hard on my right arm and I do not break my elbow and a mean orthopedist does not tell me I have to move it anyway or risk losing my range of motion and I do not have to teach while on Percocet which is harder and less fun than you might imagine.
None of my friends ever kill themselves.
I never even meet one of them, because I’m never admitted to a psychiatric hospital, because I never try to kill myself, or say I will, or gesture to repeatedly to prevent someone from abandoning me, which, I’ll never learn, is what a therapist I’ll never meet refers to as a “communication tactic.”
In this poem, I don’t even fear abandonment.
Jacques never leaves me, or, I never meet Jacques.
Or we fuck once, or we fuck a few times
but love never enters the building.
Love, in this case, is the bad thing,
or the absence of kindness in the face of love;
so in this poem, wherever there is love
there will be kindness and where there is no kindness
there will be no love.
I don’t hate the feeling of a man inside me, or, there are never any men inside me in this poem and also never any expectations. I am taller and more masculine and everyone who wants to fuck wants me to fuck them.
Another man I love with a French name never pushes me down into the cold concrete of a stairwell and fucks me dry, without a condom. If he fucks me at all, it is tenderly, in an expensive hotel where I do not learn to like it again because I never stopped.
I never offer to suck the dick of the boy I am sharing a hotel room with on a high school trip and he never insists on fucking me and I never say yes and I never say “stop” or can’t remember whether or not I do and this question does not haunt me because it never happens.
When I’m sixteen, a middle-aged man next to me at the opera does not touch my knee and it does not terrify me how much I like it.
I’m never a teenager at all, if it can be arranged. I see the car coming and don’t make the left turn.
My parents never:
keep booze in the house,
name me after it.
There’s still pot in this poem, but I smoke less of it.
I don’t have to keep stopping and starting
to get high and masturbate; this poem pours out of me, easy,
like conversation with strangers at a bar, even when I’m sober,
which I might be sometime at one of the bars in this poem.
There’s nothing I don’t want to write
about. I love writing.
I love my body.
I’m not gay in this poem, or it is not hard to be gay in this poem. Stet—it’s been useful, because it’s been hard.
But not so hard, I’m not forced to come out in the sixth grade, at least—not to my parents, because I never get reported for writing something obscene about Justin Timberlake on an AOL message board, and not to everyone else, because it isn’t so apparent to them already.
In middle school, none of the boys ever follow me around in the hallway between classes, lisping. I don’t have a crush on one of them and he doesn’t ask me out as a joke one day when everyone is hanging out by the picnic tables before school and I don’t find myself somehow relieved that I know it’s a joke the whole time because falling for it would have been way worse.
Phil Bruno doesn’t write an essay for AP English our senior year of high school which is both a personal attack on me and on gay people more generally. He doesn’t read it aloud in front of the entire class and the teacher doesn’t let him finish and I don’t gather my things and walk out. If he does, and I do, I don’t walk straight out of the school without stopping to look at anyone, I go to the principal’s office and raise hell and maybe make a YouTube video about it that I parlay into some small fame. I don’t feel embarrassed about how many times I’ve let him copy my math homework.
In this poem, I get revenge
only from the people who owe it
to me, who is no one.
On Halloween, when I’m nine, the co-pilot of a Boeing 767 en route to Cairo does not crash the plane into the Atlantic Ocean sixty miles south of Nantucket, just into international waters. If he does, my father’s parents aren’t on board. If the investigation falls under Egypt’s jurisdiction, they don’t lack the necessary resources and ask the US to lead it instead. The US authorities don’t determine that the co-pilot seized the controls, did it on purpose, but can’t explain why. There’s never a second, conflicting investigation, because the Mubarak government doesn’t insist this isn’t true. I never know my father as the child this happens to.
Two years later, I don’t ejaculate for the first time at summer camp, at the hands of a boy who is a year or two older, who I didn’t know before this summer but knew of because he’d gotten kicked out of my elementary school for bringing in a beebee gun. I don’t pretend to be asleep the whole time because I am afraid of him but also afraid
I don’t want him to stop. I don’t tell
our counselors the next day because I don’t know
how to feel about it but recognize it as familiar,
the first bad thing that was done to me, and now
neither of us can stay. I don’t feel guilty about this, for years.
And the first bad thing,
much further back than that,
is not my first memory, or
what I understand to be the first
because over time I have
smoothed and perfected it
like a stone in my palm.
Here my hands are empty.
Here it never happens, so I don’t have to tell you about it.
JAMESON FITZPATRICK is the author of the chapbooks Morrisroe: Erasures (89plus/LUMA Publications, 2014) and Mr. & (Indolent Books, 2018). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, and elsewhere, and he teaches writing at New York University.