The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Michael McManus

Bless Me


Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was
in Fallujah,
                    where, posthumously, I woke and found myself
still alive—
                    Living was all I ever wanted until, three weeks into
my deployment, with the butt of my rifle,
I cracked the skull
                                of a flexi-cuffed Hadji,
                     and stood watching
his jellied memories leak onto the ground.

That night,
                   for my last communion,
the moon was the wafer I pressed to my tongue.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. The Corpsman sang
as he cinched tight the tourniquet.
My warrior pose was slack and unassuming.
remembering Chomsky from a friend of a friend of a friend,
the door slid open, and I fell off
                                the midnight train to redemption
as the blind man continued playing the Blues.

Father, you smell of Altar Boys—
Forgive me, that was a joke. I wonder
what it feels like to be the light
that races from the sun to warm the earth—

Not even death could stop that motion.
I am always inside
                               the penitentiary of my mind,
the cell door locked, my body
encased in body armor.
The Humvees, burning, like any impartial God would allow,
the brave but frightened screams, a crushed chest
pleading for a fistful of oxygen,
and then,
                one two three
of them are lifting into your almighty’s Holy
              Or rather, I have my earbuds on,
trying to mute everything,
except for King Krule’s Dum Surfer.

Father, forgive me, I am one step away
from madness. I imagine the spiral staircase
on which I am ascending.
can you pronounce it with a missing jaw?

I can give you the ocean but not the sea—
Back home the whiskey-blurred exodus from youth,
snorting Oxy with the television junkies,
writing the end of love on a yellow pad.

I am calculating
                            the cost of living versus the profit of death.
I detail it in the way words fall from me
like spent shell casings. A household of amens.
Each open window a prayer.
The way my lover’s tongue moves
across my body, the way snow is
and is not as it covers a valley of skeletons.
                         I was
making love to a hologram on a bed of nails
when the IED exploded, again.

How easily a boy can kill with an index finger’s worth
of trigger pulls, suppressing fire,
and afterwards watching
a black dog licking the ruptured body,
then looping away with its largesse of entrails.

Father, I’ve watched a tongue of flame refuse to scream
as it ran into the setting sun of the horizon,
                                                                       where it was
received by that nursery rhyme in the sky.
                               I open my eyes.
                          Your confessional is a brick wall
no one should ever have to enter. The way we were born into it—
which is to say this is how
                                           we make our peace
inside the slaughterhouse.

For every entry wound there is an exit.
I am wearing nothing but shoelaces and paper towels.
Tell that to your crown.
                                        Tell them that
I am the People magazine in the checkout lane,
the hunger of days,
                                one of many
who fears his reflection in the mirror—
America. Americana. PTSD by the dashboard lights
as tracers rake the car in front.
Hello. Hello. Hello. Say gasoline
despite the match. Say bullet despite its flight.
Say happiness despite its extinction.

Father, here I am in winter walking along the banks of the Susquehanna.
Some days my myths becomes the monsters,
                                                                           a bloodstain
in the sky that cannot be scrubbed away.
                            I’m listening to Sturgill Simpson’s Promise,
but I have nothing or no one to promise,
because I am tired of lying about the Iraqi girl
who yields to the awkward-at-love Marine,
and afterwards
                         his bullet.

I’ve been sleeping on a pillow of god-damn-luck.
I’ve been masturbating to the moral dilemma
while the Christ-child listens to Jay-Z.
Now I’ve stopped to watch
                                               my life
go spinning across the black ice
and into the purple dusk
—where lovers soon will be others,
and exile is a common king.

Then the miniature moon throwing its light
on the passing party barge,
                                            its fantail filling
with pied pipers wearing bright, bright clothes.
They finger the counterfeit maps tucked in their pockets.
Soon they will lip-sync in unison—
Son. Daughter. Here is your holster.
Your BDUs.—
                        The cigarettes that Jesus smoked
on his way to Calvary.
                                    Only you
in your oarless boat can save democracy.
Brother. Sister. We would not war you away
with those cold, cold lies that rattle swords.

O Father, O graveyard, O motherfucker
who called me a hero—
                                            I give you
the static cling of the soul
                                            as it slips
from the body,
                         the clinical depression
that comes with a never-ending line of credit,
the ambulance of darkness that carries me
through a rush of stars.

I’ve learned that loneliness is a sense of devotion
towards the unknown.
                                      I’ve learned that
the guitar strings of everything you’ve loved
are easily broken.
                            O Father,
find a paper bag to be my coffin
the day you bury me
                                  in a flagless grave—
And let my headstone read—
Bless me, Father,
                             for god knows
that I have sinned ten-thousand times.
—I promise.




MICHAEL P. McMANUS lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in a townhome built by others. He recently married a strikingly beautiful blonde, whose brilliant intellect leaves him dazzled and snow blind. She understands and supports his need to close the door and invoke the solitude in which he writes. He has published his work here, there, and just around the corner. He is the recipient of the Artist Fellowship Award from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, The Virginia Award, and The Oceans Prize. He is a service-connected Disabled Veteran. If he could play guitar, he would bring it like Stevie Ray Vaughan.



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