What It's Like by Jimmy Pappas
It's like, you know, when you're just a child & your parents leave you at another family's house so they can have a night off & you wake up screaming in a strange crib & you don't know where you are & how you got there & how you're supposed to behave & the other family comes in the room to comfort you & you scream even louder but they don't understand & when your father finally comes to get you he is angry because you didn't follow the rules which you never understood in the first place & he thinks you are just being a baby which doesn't make any sense to you because that's exactly what you are. It's like, you know, when the local newspaper prints the Little League statistics & because of a typographical error they have you leading the town in homeruns & you lie to the little boy who asks about it & tell him how you had an off-year & would've hit a ton more if it weren't for that injury when you crashed against the fence robbing someone of extra bases & you realize how easy it is to be a phony & how good it feels & you even made the kid happy talking to a sports hero. It's like, you know, your first trip to Fenway Park when you stroll up the walkway & just like that your whole world turns green & it's a night game & your favorite player hits a ball over the wall between the light standards into the darkness & you swear to the adults around you It ain't nevva gonna come down. It's like, you know, when you're in a car with a bunch of guys & they ask you if you're a virgin & you pretend & say Of course not & you've even done it more than once & outside on the ground for cryin' out loud & they're all looking at you like you're a porn star & you don't give any names but you know who they are thinking about & just like that you've destroyed someone's reputation & elevated yours. It's like, you know, when you don't want to live anymore & you bang your head up against the wall of the bathroom stall & then your best friend comes in there with you & puts his arm around you & bangs his head too & you both cry together & neither one of you wants to leave & you stand there hugging each other like a couple of queers & before you know it you're liking it until one of you snorts & you both start laughing & crying at the same time & you can no longer tell the difference. It's like, you know, when you're playing pool at the local bar & the radio plays "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon & you get on a hot streak & you can't miss a shot & your hair is perfect & the chicks have legs & you dance around the table like Tom Cruise in The Color of Money & you spin your stick & never drop it & there's a circle around you & you are the fire at the center. It's like, you know, when you kill another human being in a battle & you take a picture of the body & you show it to people & then when no one's around you pull it out in your room & stare at it under a small lamp by your bed & you think of how all you did was move your finger & that was all it took & it was like pressing a button & there he is now staring at you with that empty look & before you know it you're talking to him about your life & asking him questions about his & you wonder which one of you is better off. It's like, you know, the teenagers you know in Louisiana who take a crate full of live pigeons & get roaring drunk & toss the animals up in the air & use them for target practice & only one father is willing to stop his son & take a stand & say This is wrong & the rest just say It's only a bunch of dumb birds. It's like, you know, when you get old & become frustrated & describe everybody as You know the guy who or The girl who & you remember how you used to treat old people especially that elderly man who would always say Goin' fishin' & Another day another dollar & now he's dead & not doing too much fishin' & now you want to say the same things & you refuse to because you don't want to be like him but you look in the mirror & you are like him & you decide to share your wisdom because you must have acquired a lot of knowledge over the years & every time you start to tell about it you get lost & you can't even figure out what it was you were trying to explain in the first place.
Jimmy Pappas won the 2017 Readers Choice Award at Rattle. His book Scream Wounds contains poems based on veterans' stories. He won the 2019 Rattle chapbook contest for Falling off the Empire State Building. His interview with editor Tim Green is on Rattlecast #34. His poem "The Gray Man" has been nominated for a Pushcart prize.