Originally from Philadelphia, Kat Giordano is currently completing a degree in Fine Arts from Penn State University, where she serves as the poetry editor for student-run Lake Effect. Her poems and fiction have appeared in Menacing Hedge, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Rat’s Ass Review, and The Cincinnati Review.
THE WAFER ON OUR TONGUES
Maybe it’s just another one of the lies
they feed us, the notion that anything can happen
at all, and we all settle because we want anything
to be true. Now that we know the truth
about the Easter bunny, about the drugs
that couldn’t save us and only made us feel
good. Now that we’re all out of rocketships.
Now that we have nothing but lint in our pockets.
One day I’ll have to hold my kid in my arms,
guide his chin to the sky and admit
we thought there’d be flying cars by now.
I’ll pull a TV out of my pocket and show him
the old cartoons from the 90’s when we still fought
over the remote, thought it was any better than going
to church. I’ll tell him about when we were forced to go,
the wafer they placed on our tongues, the taste
of half-digested bread. How we did it to ensure
we had somewhere safe to go when everything
crumbled. I’ll tell him there used to be a word
for a place like that, and I’ll suck my teeth a while
trying to remember it, retracing my steps for it
like some old toy I must have misplaced.
I once fell for a guy who loved Jesus
and wanted me to love Him, too, not
like a fire-and-brimstone howler on the street
corner but a man trying to acquaint you
with his best friend. Like your best friend
trying to set you up on a blind date
with someone they work with. Like
he hoped one day to invite both of us
to the same bar and when Jesus looked up
from His water glass of Merlot, I would know
exactly who it was, no introduction needed,
just, “Hi, I’ve heard a lot about you,” and
that would be that. Maybe I could order Him
a Three Wise Men and the three of us
would share a smile, in on the same joke.
He in turn fell for the Jesus-shaped space he saw
inside of me, not like a particular need
or a calling but a vague opening where,
if you jammed him in hard enough, the Lord
might have fit. But the curiosity that he admired
was not an invitation. Not ignorance,
not a void aching to be filled. Only a love
letter to the unknown, a reverence
toward the many ways people like him tried
in vain to shed some weak and incomplete
light. Two wires had simply crossed
when they weren’t supposed to and here
he was, pining for me to step out
and stop feeling around in the dark. He didn’t
understand that I like it in here, that my own awe
is the only thing I have any interest in believing.
One night, he said over instant message
that he felt Jesus lightly tapping at my soul,
and suddenly the Lord was no longer a friend
of a friend that I might like to meet someday
and more like an older man in a bar who won’t leave
me alone, each prayer sent up for me without consent
an uneasy look that He mistakes
for some kind of subtle advance. Now
I picture Him purring in my ear that He can turn
water into wine, His one-off gimmick bar trick
that He thinks will let Him take me home.
I picture myself numbly sipping my vodka cran
and hoping He’ll leave. I picture His friend hovering
behind Him with a kind of mechanical smile
and later asking me, “Doesn’t it feel so good
to finally be saved?” Years later, when I shut
off my light and lie there in the black
waiting for the drowsiness to hit, I can still imagine
the unholy strain in his voice.
Why doesn’t anyone say it? Why
must we pretend this forced detachment
is pride, something that fills the emptiness?
It is lonely to be yourself, to be
ugly and marked for desertion,
the bruised apple in a perfect display.
Those rewarded tell you to be your own reward
but never look you in the eye, captivated
by their reflections in the shimmering prize.
Hard to tell sometimes if they mean it to hurt
or believe it, lost themselves in the illusion
that acceptance is rightfully earned.
If only you were more confident, more positive,
or more like yourself, maybe they would love you,
only they don’t know those things when they see them.
They get uncomfortable if the ugly look
at themselves and see ugliness. They flinch
in empathy at each flawed face that touches the light.
They can’t bear to see your ugliness, your pain.
They want you to indulge their delusion,
to show them that what is real always prevails.
Because they look into themselves and see nothing
real. They look into themselves and see a knot
they don’t know how to untie.
They look into themselves and see that
they, too, are lonely, and they can’t bear it
any more than you can.
LIVING WITH ANXIETY
He’s convinced that something horrible is always lurking
in the dark. So when I come home, all of the lamps
are on, the exhaust whirring, huffing nonexistent
licks of smoke. I find him checking the oven for
burnt edges on the cookies he put in two minutes ago.
With a trembling finger he flicks the oven light on and off,
his un-mitted hand fondling his neck for new tumors
the past ten inspections may have missed. The chocolate
chips, he later explains, make his lips tingle, activate
his decades-latent allergy. I finish the others
by his side while his timer ticks down. “Anaphylactic shock
occurs within 30 minutes of ingestion,” he explains. It doesn’t.
Everything he owns is kept in plain sight, piled
either on his desk or the floor. He needs everything at his fingertips
for whenever the big disaster finally happens. Once,
the smoke alarm in our building went off during the night
and he slept in his shoes for the next month.
My friends say he’s harmless, and even pity him for being
afraid to live, afraid of someone he loves dying,
or getting hurt, or needing something he’s already
thrown out. But I don’t think he’s afraid. I think
he wants it to happen, craves the relief of a good tragedy,
like a test he’s been studying for his whole life.
I once walked in on him touching himself
to a disaster movie. A man had just watched
his best friend jump out of a collapsing building
and splatter on the ground five stories below.
Seeing this, the man crouched down and wept
in the flames. I heard my anxiety sigh, his white limbs
tensing, then going limp. It was the calmest I’d ever seen him,
and I’ve gotta tell you, I’d never been more afraid.
I have this theory about mystery flavored lollipops
which is that we don’t really know what we like or how they taste,
that if they sold any one of those flavors on its own, in packaging
reflecting what it meant to hold them to our tongues, nobody
would bother. Like, when despite all the warnings, you drove
in the blizzard and your car spun out in the middle of the freeway,
how “fender bender” became almost a blessing, those four-hundred dollars
a small price for absolution. Or those days Erie thaws just enough to yank itself
from winter and people tan on the still-wet benches like 40 is the new 87.
They aren’t really warm in their board shorts and no crash is ever a blessing,
like when you fight with your lover and swear you feel the end
coming. It’s not pleasure when she touches you next, just the relief
of knowing she is still there to be disappointed and you to be redeemed,
some vague chance to improve or pretend you could. Most of the time
when we think we’re getting away with something big, it’s just bigger than
we thought. None of the mystery flavors are any good, and if they are
we could never know it. It’s just pessimism making us lucky, tricking us
to think desire is more about what happens than our expectation
of loss. We mistake fear for gratitude, living in the space between
all the horrors we could have unwrapped instead. The things I think of
now as you wait in an ER a hundred miles away for a verdict I pick
to pieces for something to swallow.