Junk Turquoise - Michael Mlekoday

There was the first time the ocean called to me 

in its many voices. Sudden and bizarre, 

I thought, that it would choose me 


of all people, circling, as I was, my ego, 

wrecked, as I was, in my own splendor 

and drunkenness, landlocked, as I was, 


by my own understanding of the body.

The voices of the ocean were not mine,

I understood, for I did not love them at first. 


The Blessed Virgin appeared in Lourdes, 

and she appeared in Fátima, and she appeared 

in Medjugorje, and in each case, she chose 


as her messengers children and townsfolk, 

people I imagine with bad teeth and good faith. 

Easy to worship a white-dressed anybody 


in the time of dirt, in the time of frayed cloth. 

Easy to worship a woman who knows how 

to disappear when the policemen come. 


Still, they did not all become nuns or priests 

or even daily communicants after her visits. Some did. 

Others farmed and fucked like they always had. 


At my father’s funeral, my first Mass in months, 

when my brother asked if I’d gotten my sins 

forgiven before taking Communion, I lied. 


Holy, I thought the body, and dark. 

Broken, I thought the body, and dead. 

Rebel, I thought the body, and sang 


the dank, sweaty revival of sex, sang 

of what is risen, what is cast out and gleaming, 

what power I sang of, what noise, 


and I carried all this in my heart, 

and the songs smeared across and over 

and into each other, and this was called guilt. 


If the Blessed Virgin had appeared to me, 

glowing Technicolor on my fridge 

or ambushing me as I pissed outside 


in an alleyway behind my neighborhood bar 

one night at 2 a.m., if she’d hummed secrets 

of divine mercy and the nation’s future 


in my ear, soft as pillow talk, her breath 

hot with heaven, if this had been an ecstasy

afforded me even at my most zealous, 


I would’ve ran fast and far, ran with the speed

a dream moves in, ran for the crazy fear of God 

I’d never held in my heart, mad, finally, 


with the ache of certainty. Instead, 

the ocean called to me in its many voices, 

too unknowable, too far away for fear. 


Symbol, I thought the body, 

and proxy, with a belt swung 

to bare flesh of back for sins, 


with beer and vodka and lemonade 

cauldroned together to welcome 

the happy summer, with scars 


and gold stars for show. Canvas, 

I thought the body, and simple, 

with fasting and feasts and haircuts. 


The ocean called and I loved myself 

too much to be ready. I loved myself 

too much to really love myself, or my mother, 


or the gentle swing of my city, or whatever 

hums so soft we call it silence. I was loud 

and useless. I was the bravado of steam 


and the weight of it, too. How else to say it 

but that one must lose his life in order 

to find it and I was dying, but not losing. 


I don’t remember the music from my dad’s funeral, 

but I’ll bet it’s still out there, somewhere, 

the memory of it tiptoeing the coast, 


bodiless in its remembrance of the body, 

a kind of apparition, unmoved by the wind

flapping around it, the waves smacking themselves


raw, and there’s a couple walking the beach, 

I’ll bet, in awe of the ocean’s harsh song, 

looking out to the horizon for the other side.



 About the Author:

Michael Mlekoday is the author of The Dead Eat Everything (Kent State University Press, 2014) and a National Poetry Slam Champion. Mlekoday serves as Editor & Publisher of Button Poetry and teaches at Indiana University.