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In the building, in the desert, the adults hold umbrellas above their heads. In the haze of the
heat, rainbows revealed from stained glass light, the adults hold umbrellas above their
heads. I’m twelve & cold sweats & laying catatonic blessed on my mother’s lap. The
congregation murmurs & sighs a collective breath. There’s a pattern to the standing up
and sitting down, a pattern I cannot map. The adults hold umbrellas above their heads.
Candles flicker shadows that make so much noise, instrumentals & synchronized singing
& hallelujah & bodies rhythming up & down in a holy dance party; a stranger slips
quietly out of the confession booth. The congregation murmurs & sighs a collective
breath. Later, we’ll return to our homes: the man next to me on the pews will hammer
tulips into the north-facing wall, a woman will watch chicken bones dip into bubbling oil.
But right now, a volunteer struts up to the cup to open a vein, & a line of umbrellas forms
to drink the flesh of the son under a solar, air-conditioned god. Small blasphemy: my
blood runs hot when I look up at Jesus, mouth psalmed in ecstatic pain. When I say step
on me I pray, be gentle, walk on water. The congregation murmurs & signs a collective
breath. I am asked if I want medicine. The adults hold umbrellas above their heads. They
pray for wine. I ask for rain. There’s something in the air, here, but we have a different
relationship to petrichor. The desert needs water, essential element of life. But when it
rains, it pours our home: the drowning capital of the world: children trip into pools.
Arroyos flood, slip into streets & wash cars into buildings, turn highways into rivers
made silver with gasoline, with metal, lost in the way the summer light shines on a
drowned body’s back.
At the Naming Ceremony, I Can’t Look Anyone in the Eye
“Alexander: masc. proper name, from Latin, from Greek Alexandros ‘defending men,’”
First, a line of teens, we take
communion: a scarlet promise glistering on the lip
of a cup, all the boys’ minds wreathed
in rainbows wrought from stained glass. If
there is a song, it is the hum of the wasp
drifting between St Mary’s candles, mistaking
burning for bloom. If there is a silence,
it is the soft severance suspended
when I walk out the door, & never
return. The priest ties a knot through my pupil, attaches
the other end to his tongue, then carries the ceremony on
that invisible tension above the pews. If
faith could balance on the rapture between us, I think falling
wouldn’t be sin, but flinching, a lack of perseverance.
No one knows I have gum in my mouth.
No one knows I spend all day on the internet, watching men
grind prayers into one another, their hands like delicate crowns
laid to rest at the temples. But I think, if I blink,
the deacons will flush. They’ll see me. They’ll know.
So I stare at the relatives, all proud in their Sunday best—
how a late Aunt enters loudly, her sopping hand
splashing holy water on her forehead, her shoulders,
her tangerine dress. I stare, & suddenly I’m called forth
to the Father. Confirmation’s no curse, he promises
to my jealousies of shame. But
I’m a vessel for commitment. I take
my own name in vain.
James O’Leary (they/them) is a bi, gender-fluid poet and writer from Arizona. James’s work has been nominated for both the Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize anthologies, and has appeared or is forthcoming in online and print publications including Frontier, The Indianapolis Review, the minnesota review, and Foglifter. James holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. You can find James on Twitter @thesundaypoet; they currently live in Orange County.