Donald Paris graduated from Queens University of Charlotte’s Creative Writing MFA program. His work has appeared in The Other Journal, Sonic Boom, and Eunoia Review. He can be followed on Twitter @DonaldParis
Prayers to St. Sebastian for Endurance
I’ve been a terrible Catholic. I first learned
of you in a Frank O’Hara poem, not in
a confirmation class. I read the poem
over and over, poolside, sitting
in a plastic chair that burned
like a branding iron as I imagined
a man in a burnt cyan shirt, grinning,
pretending he could love me.
I found a painting of you,
tied to a tree, arrows piercing
your body. I thought of slip knots,
how Diocletian’s men probably
used one to bind your wrists,
how easy they can turn into crude
hangman’s knots, with a few
small twists around themselves.
I thought how rope would burn
your skin, leaving you raw and red
as the arrows that burrowed
into you. I imagined a part
of you, thankful that rope
wasn’t around your neck.
I thought of you while watching the news.
There were more videos of black men dying.
It reminded me of when the white women
who raised me asked Do you feel safe?
How I stared into the crown molding,
following dancing bits of light,
as I thought of a way to say no
without causing them to worry.
It made me wonder, if it was me,
would you be there to carry
their prayers? Would you be there for me,
as I lay dying, pierced by bullets not arrows,
confused, wondering why it’s so hard to breathe
when there’s no rope around my neck.
You slid the pack of Mike n Ikes
and chewing gum along the thin counter
between us as you asked
What’s been the best part of your day?
I looked up from my billfold, to you,
to your name badge pinned on your chest.
I was thinking about dying before, wondering
what it would be like have the electrical
sparks between synapses short, how
I thought it would feel like anesthesia,
a slow count back from 100. 99, 98, 97,
peace, 96, 95, blackness, 94, 93,…
then nothing. My heart would stop.
My brain would die. I would cease to live.
Then what? I stare into the reflection
of florescent lights on the tiled floor
behind you. I glance to you and see you
smiling, tucking strands of hair behind
your ear, eager to hear me speak. As if we
both see the space between us, as we leak
and dissolve like acidic water
through copper pipes,hoping
the emptiness could answer our questions.