Donald Paris

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

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Prayers to St. Sebastian for Endurance

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Counting Backwards

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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.

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