2018 Gulf Coast Prize in Poetry: Church Board Interrogations

Josh Tvrdy

Take 1

Growing up, did you ever feel compelled to wear women’s clothing?

                                             On Tuesdays I wore nothing
                                             but sheen. In sunlight

                                             I was one slick rainbow.

Did you like playing with cars?

                                             One winter I sealed my lips
                                             around the neighbor’s beamer’s

                                             tailpipe. I was in the middle
                                             of my snake-appreciation stage. Unhinged

                                             jaws were in. Dad carried tomato soup
                                             across the street, sponged me free

                                             with a hunk of sourdough, then made me
                                             eat my dinner in that frozen driveway

                                             while the neighbor boys breathed heavy
                                             behind their bedroom windows.

What about sports? Were you sporty?

                                             I played pattycake till my palms ran
                                             bloody. The recess boys called me

                                             Pansy. The Jesus-boys, in the humid
                                             locker room, reached out their hands

                                             as I passed, mine dripping like a saint’s.

Were you friends with other boys?

                                             I was tight with Jimmy, tighter
                                             with Greg, tightest with Titus

                                             who never learned to relax
                                             his sphincters. They don’t

                                             teach you that in school,
                                             but some boys learn it in the dark

                                             janitor’s closet with the sweet
                                             scent of lemon pledge

                                             and a mop to clean our spills.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

                                                  A smooth elbow. A yellow yard
                                             of sassafras. A neon pool noodle. A pillow

                                             queen. An old bottle of piss
                                             saved for a quiet afternoon. The sexiest

                                             wrench. Daddy’s little hockey puck. 

Take 2

Tell us about your father.

                                             He used to sneak inside my bedroom
                                             late at night dressed as an artichoke—

                                             a stick of butter in one hand, a knife
                                             in the other. He named himself

                                             Temptation. I was young. I didn’t care
                                             for vegetables. In the morning he was

                                             wilted, his tender heart hidden away.

Did you have a healthy relationship with him?

                                             My first word was

                                             My second was

Was he affectionate?

                                             He threatened to wrap me in Christmas
                                             tinsel and send me off to Grandma.

Did you ever do things to get his attention?

                                             I fucked myself with a garden
                                             carrot at seventeen. Zucchini

                                             quick to follow.

How did he punish you?

                                             He said I love you
                                             and he wasn’t lying.

                                             He said You’re still
                                             my son, then wept.

Take 3

How long have you suffered these thoughts?

                                             For years I’ve smeared
                                             lipstick on my stuffed raccoons.

Straightforward answers, please.

                                             Fuzzy Wuzzy wore cherry red
                                             stilettos in the rest stop bathroom.

Who is Fuzzy Wuzzy?

                                             Fuzzy Wuzzy was
                                             a bear.

Don’t be smart with us.

                                             Fuzzy Wuzzy was an otter
                                             named Brad

                                             who pissed in my mouth
                                             in a ditch at the edge of I-80.

Was Brad the otter a homosexual?

                                             I tried to convince my father
                                             to replace my arms

                                             with spatulas. He shook
                                             his head No. No

                                             boy of his would ever be
                                             a housefly’s misery.

Did Brad the otter ever touch you?

                                             My baby rides a watermelon
                                             to the local Starbucks. He splits

                                             the rind with his teeth, a circus
                                             for thirsty baristas.

Tell the truth. Were you touched as a child?

                                             His teeth aren’t real bones—
                                             twenty-two glinting bottle-openers.

                                             He’s my aluminum abomination.
                                             If you stopped asking silly things

                                             you could hear him—his every word
                                             rings true like a tiny handbell.