Remember, my mother said, they found Adam Walsh in pieces,
buttoning my jacket, Have a good day, sending me off to school
with my brothers, other boys whose bodies were bundled
so we could walk to the elementary school
directly across the dead-end four-house street in DeLand,
Florida, two hundred and fifty miles and ten years away
from where Adam was taken outside a Sears store.
The dead end street, road severed by woods--
I couldn’t make it lose its prophecy. Adam Walsh
in pieces whenever we went to school, the supermarket,
to my grandparents’ house in the same sleepy town.
In pieces, I imagined his little kid-body by the river,
re-assembled, the cuts displaying the land beneath,
America in pieces and me holding the ghost-boy’s hand,
crossing the street, too afraid to look up, at what was coming.
In school we play King vs. Queen, boys chasing girls
until all but one is erased. Then it was Hangman.
On the chalkboard, a neck in a noose, a word underneath--
letters looming from the opaque fog, death filling each white dash:
one grinning boy hanged another.
His smile: gums riddled with black blanks where his teeth
would have grown if he had become himself instead of me.
I pictured him ahead of me in the lunch line, waiting for his turn
at four-square and tether-ball, and in the Winn Dixie, in the dairy aisle,
holding a milk carton next to his face, another missing child’s portrait
printed in red with last-seen stats. Which one of us deserves
to be more found? he demands, grinning.
Adam, recognizing himself at a display of pumpkins,
faces carved into gourds: You aren’t human until you’re cut.
Adam is afraid of the dark, we sleep with the TV on mute.
He climbs down from his bunk, lays on top of me
in our cartoon underwear. Let’s wrestle, he says, I get to be Rick Rude,
teaching me first the sleeper, then the chokehold,
twisting my arm to show where the ligaments will
make small clean crosses with your veins. I rub my wrists back right
and tell him I want to stop playing Tie Me Up.
He never wants to be saved anymore.
Once, at a carnival, he made me stand in front of him,
reflected in a funhouse mirror, and look at my body
stretched painfully, finally thin. That’s you, Adam said,
if you didn’t deserve to be gutpunched.
My mother always said, But you have such a beautiful face.
I pieced together the rest.
When I’m twenty-five and a man chokes me,
kissing me, my first time making love,
afternoon sunshine spilling across the bed,
Adam is laying beside me, mocking me, whispering:
squirm but don’t shut your eyes, their light going out
pleases him best. If the Adam-part of me remembers
the funhouse mirror, tears of stretched joy,
then the other part will still love a man, enthusiastic
about my neck. A good boy would slap his hand away.
In photographs with the man, my first lover,
I’m all head and shoulders. The less evidence
the better. He nods that six-year old head
and smiles his toothy smile, crossing his arms.
Those were the years I was a dismemberment
in search of a body. Adam’s body was never recovered,
only his severed head, floating in the river
where it was tossed. In all those years,
not once did he ask me to find him.
What he wants, he has, my mind, raising
my hands as he does to touch a face
once in a while, raising his hand
to tender goodbye.
FROM THE RAILING OF THE STEAMSHIP ORIZABA HART CRANE TURNS TO ADDRESS US
I profess I loved watching the waves
shatter. Do I gorgeous enough? Take me
with you then. I have never been
to: Nova Scotia, New Harmony, Truth or
Consequences I’d like to avoid: the body’s vacating
the body gets in the way, it stops me, the Montrealer
slows its pistons out of respect to the defunct station
Make me colder faster. Do I frozen enough
A man who leaps in front of the train
One man remembering you is not enough: Modigliani died
at 35, tuberculosis roiled in his blood and his lover
the day later threw herself off a balcony,
and their unborn child I keep trying to continue
but I do not gorgeous enough
The note I would have left would have said I couldn’t bear
I know you will look for something to blame
put it here next to the
For the record I’m gesturing to Love
Look, failure is all around you
There are many waves to break
The body wanted something I couldn’t deny it
If my father needs to, he can say
I carried the night with me as long
the last audible part of the echo
Do I gouge enough Does the dark
make the cold colder
I’m sorry, I say to the poem inside me
is a terrible place to carry
What comes after this shipwreck
I was not the last moments
(please know) terrified I was
some other field of force beyond skin
Orizaba means Valley of Happy Waters
FLORIDA IS NOT THE SOUTH
And I am not Louis Newbury, my best friend, caught between
staring at his glistening torso and eyeing the bone-dry lawn
as he clambers up the orange tree. I stay earth’s refugee,
and when he asks what I’m gawking at, I say juniper berry,
fix my watering mouth, stop my bulge-eyed fawning. Mama’s
boy, I long for evening, when the big houses’ refugees
come to Grandma’s and unfold their card tables, felt-topped, green--
the Shalimar’d and powdered ladies of Daytona
swarm my grandma’s porch, and between
hands of euchre, teach me and Louis a secret speech,
their voices julipped and crackling: sissy, jackdaw,
dirty yankee—words they mourned, refugees
of language only given air, they warned, in pure company.
Now repeat. I refused, Louis guffawed. Mimicry ‘came law.
After that I hid under the porch, their satin heels. In the dark between,
I became Southern, history’s mute, a queer refugee.
James Allen Hall is the author of Now You’re the Enemy, which won awards from the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Recent poems and lyric essays have appeared in Alaska Quarterly, CutBank, The Journal, Agni, and Best American Poetry 2012. He teaches creative writing and literature at Washington College. He tweets @jamesallenhall and can be reached via email at email@example.com.