The Patron Saint

of Toledo, Ohio

Christopher McCormick

Christopher McCormick is a poet located in Toledo, Ohio. Most recently, he was recipient of the Fern R. Kalmbach Memorial Scholarship for Creative Writing while studying at the University of Toledo. His work focuses on the limitlessness of human hope juxtaposed with the limits of human existence and suffering. McCormick's work has appeared in The Mill as well as his most recent work: a Chapbook of poems entitled Aliens on the Au Sable River. It has been published through his own imprint, Canticle Press and is now being made available through Working Artists Collective.

Last twenty Bucks, March 2020

As an ever-hotter sun sinks

toward 5 o’clock, the neighborhood

grows jaundiced, deprived

of the healthy pulse of cars

that used to shake

themselves awake at dawn.

Spring is a month too late.

And because I have declared moral bankruptcy,

left my scruples at the door

when I clocked out for the last time

a month ago, tonight I’ll sit on my stoop

and open this bottle of Tanqueray

carried out of the Rite Aid under my coat,

held nearly as tight as that last paycheck.

*

Material Culture

 

I am what you see.

Scuffed shoes, socks

 

rarely matching, discount

shirt and pants, tuft

 

of unruly hair jutting

out of the crown:

 

a weathervane

governed by wind.

 

What you don’t see:

family history of diabetes,

 

Atrial Fibrillation, a fleet

of mobile homes, enough

 

empty whiskey bottles

to fill them all, resting

 

on a mass grave of Marlboro butts,

concrete naps in parking lots

 

the promise of upward mobility.

*

Portrait of My Father as a Dead Fish

As a reward for a day spent scorching

our asses in a hot tin rowboat,

we haul back six Bluegill in bad shape.

One has lost an eye, another swallowed

a hook, blood pooling in the gills

and dripping onto newspaper as the fish

gift their vapors to the late August sun.

All caught in my father’s

“honey hole”— his name for that

stretch of lakebed where the Bluegill

lunge at anything in their campaign

to procreate, even a helpless worm

dangling on a silver hook.

At ten-years-old I watch

my father’s sun-hardened fingers

guide the filet knife along gills and spine.

His knuckles, covered in nicks from

years working colossal dies for Chrysler,

accumulate sinew and organs

that look like the kidney beans mom

leaves to soak under the kitchen window.

He smears it all onto old newspapers

that soak it up like earth drinks rain,

like the trees they’re made from

soak up light. “It’s best to do this

while the fish is still moving,

when you know the meat’s

fresh” he says, inserting

the knife into the flesh beside

a gill that never quits its search

for a lake now thirty miles away.

When it’s my turn to take on

this profession, older than the mud

thickening between my seasonally

bare toes, it’s as if the knife senses

my lack of experience, my hesitation

to take a life. It enters, instead,

my thumb, a single ruby tear

falling to the ground.

I look up to see a dead

bluegill’s eye, discover not mockery,

but a blackened looking glass

which once watched for threats

from the murky lakebed

so his little eggs, prolifically fertilized,

might have the smallest chance to survive.

*

Aliens on the Au Sable River

Son, it was 1980 and I was in a cracker

of an accident on my bike,

laid up in the hospital for months

waiting for my leg to take the skin grafts,

you know, where the exhaust pipe

pinned me to the road, cooked my shit

like a Christmas ham.

Well, your grandfather came to check on me,

I could see something wrong with him,

wouldn’t meet my eye, white hair

every which way, skipped a few

buttons on his shirt, you know, like he was

neglecting himself, always paid special

attention to his appearance,

a certain point of pride.

I tried to force the matter

but he just wouldn’t give it up, kept

fidgeting with this watch he always

carried, winding it, playing

with the dials obsessively.

He called me up one day,

didn’t sound as nervous, must’ve

had a couple drinks in him, voice low

and full of gravel, like he’d chased

the beer with a cup of screws, said

he’d seen something in the woods,

camping out on the Au Sable.

Back then, you were small and tearing

the place apart driving your mother

to tears, I was working at the plant so hard

grinding these hands into nothing

I didn’t want to hear it but he just

kept on talking, I heard the cool

pop as he opened another beer

and told me how everyone was asleep

when one night and how this light hit him from above,

brighter than any day the Au Sable had ever seen.

Your grandfather said he wanted to scream

and shit all at once, but he was paralyzed

and that’s all he remembered

until he came to a few hours later, never

talked about it with anyone until me,

but he always thought they would come back

for him, he really believed that

You know, your grandfather had diabetes,

was born with it, had to shoot himself up

with insulin every day, it was painful for him.

Sixty years of that shit takes its toll,

his feet were gnarled full of sores,

I watched the pain wave cross his face

every time he shuffled to the fridge

to get another beer, passed out

on his plate of food once too,

when your mother and me visited

before we were married.

I started to worry about leaving him,

about living so far with you and your mother,

thought he might be eating one night

and suck a baked bean down his windpipe

and that would be that.

Well, until the day he died he believed

those things, whatever they were

hiding in that light, would come back

and take his pain away, take away

the needles, the sores, take the pins

out of his feet, take him to a place

where his wife wasn’t living

with another man across town,

where his garden was full

of sunflowers and gigantic

tomatoes instead of flies buzzing

around half-starved mice. You know

your grandfather, he always told

a lot of bullshit stories, but the thing

was they always changed with the telling,

this one stayed the same until the day

we found him, laying on the couch

looking like an empty sock,

too still to be sleeping, door open,

lawn mower still running in the tall grass.

In the Hospital Waiting Room

 

          Terror is a state of complete understanding.

                    -Larry Levis

 

At nine years old, I didn’t know

much about death, only that

it lived here and these

men and women in stethoscopes

were its lackeys.

 

Thanks to every white wall

looking same as the last,

there was no telling

where I had come in.

 

If my parents and Father Mike

were right, and we slip

out of our bodies like

from a bath when

it’s our time,

 

what good would the ability

to walk through walls

amount to here?

 

Was this place

filled with newly emancipated

souls like a rotting pumpkin,

ready to burst?

 

If only I could be like them

for just one day, meld

through wall after wall

until I hit air,

 

go home and sleep just

long enough to churn nightmare

into dream.

Autumn Benediction

After summer folds its clammy hands

and the world yellows

like an overwatered orchid, shrivels

like and unpicked apple

getting heavy on the bough

the firefly’s staccato language

will abandon tempo,

their neon lackadaisical

as monks wandering aisles

in this dying-light cathedral

who form processions

thick as birch trunks

and lay to rest another year.

King for a Day

At twelve years old, I was a Pharaoh for Halloween.

Not a vampire or ghost, I was looking to instill

a different kind of fear, to be something

made immutable by three thousand years in the ground.

Flanked by a wheezing father and mom warming

a Busch Light in hand, my pillowcase heavy with plunder,

the denizens of the neighborhood trembled as they

offered up sweets as tribute to the boy king.

I returned that night with enough delicacies

to make an emperor blush, basking in that Eden

of childhood where you could jump from one costume to the next,

before you found one comfortable enough to be buried in.

Lightning

It comes as an answer

to a question formed

in deep drums of human

hearts. A strip of light

torn clean through sky

as if it were nothing

but a piece of old wallpaper.

Can you blame the ancients

for believing their gods

addressed them?

At this hour, sun

slips beneath horizon

and night creeps into

every empty space

like water seeking its’ level.

Cloud’s bellies burst to release

what must come down.

The lighting has a way

of revealing—in each

half second flash— what

can be accumulated

in a workaday life:

two or three photos hanging

from the bedroom wall, clothes

thrown on the floor after a day

of too much toil and care,

and a softly breathing

sleeper on the next pillow.

If Chopin Lived Next Door

Would his nocturnes evoke

the fluorescence of streetlights

doubled in the oily sheen

of curbside pools,

instead of lantern-lit Parisian fog?

Nighttime air

fumed with the breath

of neighborhood dogs

who have barked themselves hoarse,

not an amphitheater

melting from the heat

of a thousand clapping hands?

How might he compose rhapsodies

in rooms so cramped

he could stand against one wall,

spit at the other, and hit?

Or would a phone call sever

his line to the muses,

from two stranded friends, penniless,

voices like asphalt, with instructions

to pick up cigarettes on the way.

Sanctuary in the Aisles of Goodwill

 

Past a cathedral’s worth of Precious Moments figurines

beside a stack of paintings salvaged

from long gone dentist office waiting rooms,

I saw a chair with delicate filigree, Tudor Arches

carved in the back, a crimson seat

 

like where the altar boy would sit

in white stillness while Father Gary gave his incantations.

I would sweat through Tuesday mass

and do signs of the cross,

 

twice as many as the other kids

(one to open the prayer, one to close it,

one to open the opening of the prayer

and one to close the closing, just to be sure)

 

and wonder: did he ever look

at the steeple and see

a cavernous maw, a mantis’s pincers

ready to take his head like Saint Denis?

 

Yet the abyss between breakfast and lunch

was one I could not cross without that tasteless wafer,

brittle and disintegrating in my mouth

like cardboard in the rain.

 

How many of these once-venerated thrones

grace the margins of attics and sitting rooms

like long-forgotten pagan gods, gathering dust halos

as veins of mold climb their beatific legs?

 

How many churches have shut down in this town

as if God can just pick up

and scatter his wheat somewhere else?

 

Now I sit in the chair, at a desk whose drawers bear nothing

but condoms and weed dust. I ask for wine in the morning

and get a funny look from the man in the liquor store

 

as he guards rows of behind-the-counter scotch,

untouched, unmoved like incorruptible saints.

No, he won’t pour it out or even tip it to my lips.

PURCHASE 

the Aliens on the Au Sable River Chapbook 

$15 each. A gallery attendant will be in contact to confrim and complete your order.

* Denotes poems included in the book.

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