Poetry: Selections from Christine Naprava

What Stays

Either he spelled the cat’s name wrong
(an -ie for an -e, “Kitten” when clearly her name had been Donna)
or settled on the wrong month of death,
finalizing it in black
on the gray paver meant for a walkway.
Everything about the tiny graveyard was wrong
and all the deaths had been wrong too,
whether they were of old age while we were away in Disney,
or euthanasia on 9/11 (of all days),
or the beloved collapsing into a black and white pile of herself
as we all watched and wept.
I cannot visit their resting ground
without the neighbor’s dogs barking holes in my head,
and if I fight to clear a stone, the grass fights back,
as if to say, Leave us the hell alone.
Once, he planted a fake Halloween cat on the counter to scare me.
I wailed because it looked like a dead her.
Now there’s one of her in the dirt and one of her in the attic.
The tiny graveyard was supposed to be a thing of beauty.
We always feared what would happen to it if we ever moved,
but what a sick, sordid joke that’s become,
what a silly pipe dream it is
to believe that people like us
will ever flee in the night
from a place like this.

Building Your Lover

Every neighborhood comes with a garage door cracked,
burning bright shop lights pouring out from underneath,
beaconing the drive,
and I am that garage,
I am that scalpel that shaves hair soft, hair smelling so nicely,
from less favorable scalps
and I fashion a new scalp, a new head.
I shear the beard from a less favorable face,
transplant onto new head, new face.
I give it lips, soft and small,
but they don’t look small,
only feel small
when my mouth is a cavernous, hungry fount.
I give it a tongue,
no taste, no spit, not yet.
I unscrew a head, toss it aside,
screw body (partially) onto created head,
no light yet, though, no eyes.
How am I to give it light?
Give it eyes, doe in shape, chocolate in iris.
I give it a nose,
perfect, but not too perfect, teeth for that imperfect mouth.
The body−I’m not interested in the vessel.
Vessel comes last.
But how am I to give it light?
Do I undress slowly, T-shirt gathered high over the head and pause?
Do I relay with blind passion dreams for the future?
I press my thumbs into sockets like Jesus did.
Over by the clock that buzzes, there’s a crucifix with no savior.
I am not God.
I am not a trinity.
I am not a sculptor.
I’m the Victor Frankenstein of suburbia.
There is only one of me and many of him.
The neighborhood kids will follow my slippered feet to and fro
as they crouch behind bushes past their bedtime.
In whispers, they will ask one another what I’m doing in there
for all those long, lonesome hours.
I am building my lover, you see.
But the light never comes on,
and the shop lights always go out,
and I go to bed alone and in pieces
with a cold arm draped about my shoulders,
a lifeless leg poised across my thighs,
the taste of only me tanging in my mouth.

Pictures Both Moving and Still that Stick to my Ribs

1) Father dipping his head down to peck Grandmother’s stiff, shiny, embalmed cheek
2) The computer-generated photograph of a bright blonde university girl found dismembered on the side of a back road in Jersey in the early 2000s
3) The last Christmas card before the kid with the fanned front teeth gets braces
4) The bread-basket rolls that resemble Grandmother’s stiff, shiny, embalmed cheek
5) Your kindergarten teacher’s aide lifting a loaded gun from the playground you dug holes and buried rocks in
6) The resolve on the face of the boy you like cackling and calling you ugly
7) Your mother’s face before you tell her you’re sexually active
8) Your mother’s face every moment after you tell her you’re sexually active
9) The man you call Grandpa who’s not really your grandpa announcing that if only he were twenty years younger
10) Not the gash on your chin with the tacky flesh like strawberry Pop-Tart filling but the awe in their eyes when they first register your hurt, ask, Can I touch?

At my Cardiologist Appointment, the Electrocardiogram Fails to Detect all the Bitterness in my Heart

I’ve come to loathe
that hundred-degree
office room
like a good-for-nothing
and when I think of the man
inside of it,
I don’t see his face,
only the face of a meme
that my brain stubbornly insists
is him.
I could Google him
to make the image a little clearer,
but I’d probably
tack the image
to the wall
of that room
and then set fire
to the room.
No one goes to
their first-ever therapy session
the day after Christmas,
but I did
and it ruined my Christmas.
There was another instance
years earlier
when I dared to seek outside help
from another doctor
in a similar beige-grey office,
same godforsaken town.
I accidentally walked in on
an in-progress therapy session,
swore the doctor and the patient
had fire in their eyes
and serpents’ tongues
slapping the insides
of their mouths,
and I dipped.
I found help within myself
after that,
but now I realize that if the help
had actually helped,
I wouldn’t be writing this now,
and I wouldn’t be vomiting
the same words,
same woes
to the same three people
year after year,
and I wouldn’t still be
writing of that
cluttered, hundred-degree
office room
in which
the meme man told me
in broken English
and without words:
I think what you have
is the world’s hate
turned inward.
My solution for you?
Change planets.

The year I graduate from high school, every customer seems to contract some form of cancer that’s advanced and equally as fatal. If not the customer, then the customer’s wife, or the customer’s husband, or even the customer’s kid. They drop like flies. Every conversation becomes a version of, “Remember So and So? Well, he’s got cancer.” Viewings punctuate weeks. Some choose cremation, others insist on coffins. Daughters miss their fathers terribly.
Sons wish they’d fought their fathers less. I was an awful son. I could’ve been a better wife, a better husband (I hear that less). Did I tell you my dog died too? You’ve got so much life ahead of you, sweetie. No one says those exact words to me, but I’ve heard them enough in movies to know that youth is society’s synonym for hope. In September, I start college with my dominant hand swollen from a greenhead bite sustained at the beach. When the sign-in sheet is passed around class, I declare meekly that I am unable to sign it. I attend school by day and am briefed on the latest death toll by night. No new cancer, but other death prevails just as viciously. My aunt drank herself to death. My father blew his head off. I knew he was depressed but−I was an awful son. I was awful. I did everything right. I did nothing right. You−keep going if it feels right.

Christine Naprava is a writer from South Jersey. Her poems have appeared in Contrary Magazine, Kissing Dynamite, The Lunch Break Zine, The Daily Drunk, Outcast Press, Rough Diamond Poetry Journal, and Sledgehammer Lit, among others.


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