Doug Rice


A Flower In Broken Glass

Under the Brady Street Bridge where white trash fuck, where they drink cans of warm beer even in the cold of winter, I wait for them to become drunk enough to mistake me for a girl. These men, these women so close to death never wipe the tops of the cans. They just snap them open. Drink it down. They can drink beer without swallowing. It is an art form. They can drink without breathing. They are athletes of beer drinking.

After they have drunk enough to forget the names their mothers called them when they were sons, one by one they take me behind the old hanging tree. "My turn." "Your turn." Words and laughter mix with ashes from the garbage can fire. The world as I once knew it seems to melt and float in the air. No one appears to know anything. Everyone begins forgetting. Except their fists. Their fists never seem to forget. Are never born again. Two or three or four or five of them drag me behind some bushes and hold me down on an abandoned mattress. They convince themselves that their fists will do what God could never do. That if they punch me hard enough, that if they can bruise my skin in new ways I will disappear and become a girl. So they take turns until they become exhausted. Until their faith vanishes.

I am tired. My body is beginning to recognize the ways they enter me. The pain could just be the drugs wearing thin. Someone is burning a cigarette into my wrist. She is a woman and I am not a woman. She tells me I would be a pretty girl but that is all I hear from her.

Tomorrow will be Sunday and I will be alone. I need to buy groceries: milk, bread, aspirin, apples, lentils, the Sunday Post-Gazette. I have to get caught up in my reading for classes.

No one ever looks at me. They put their hands all over my body searching for anything that could convince them I am a girl. My mouth is bleeding. Some of them hold back from coming too close, stay at a tiny distance. The space of angels playing with insects. These men close their eyes because sometimes space will do that to longing. And when these men climb on too of me they press their hand over my eyes.

In three days we fuck. In six days we fuck. In nine days we fuck. We are religious about fucking. Religious and consistent. Few people possess such faith. Such a willing suspension of disbelief.


Losing My Religion

I go to bed at night and I wake up in the morning.

I go to bed at night and I wake up in the morning.

This happens and happens. Day and night. Day after day.

Before sleep, as a child, I prayed for the Lord to make me a girl. Told Jesus that His Father was careless with my birth. That His Father must have been distracted by Mary Magdalene. I dream of before and after pictures. Imagine myself as my father's daughter. A delicate girl to calm his drunken nights. But nothing ever happened. Every morning I rushed to the mirror and saw that I was still a boy.

In 1975, I leave home to go to college. Still a boy. Trapped forever in skin by muscles that refuse to change. Suspended by this stillness, I remain invisible. Everyone knows I am a boy. Or so they say. I wear boy clothes, just like everyone else in my dorm. I strike pose after pose as the most common of all the heterosexual boys in all the land. I disappear a little more each day. Two or three girls who know something about their own desires seem to see me. Something in the way they are willing to look at me. But we remain speechless. I grow terrified of girl clothes, of what I say through them. I continue to pray relentlessly to a God who ignores me, until one day in Philosophy class I am told in no uncertain terms that God is dead.

Late in the semester, I write a short story for my creative writing class about a boy who is enchanted by girl clothes. This boy, not me, is happy. He is easily astonished by the way mirrors become memory. My professor tells me no one cares about such a freak. Tells me to write stories the rest of us would want to read.

One night in November I fall asleep. It is half time of Monday Night Football. My roommate has gone down the hall to shower. His friend, David, locks the door to our room. I hear him unzip his pants, and between my lips I feel his cock. I wonder what I have done for him to think of me this way. I know I am to blame. I am sleeping, I tell this to myself, and I am not dreaming. I repeat this to myself until he has finished. When he has done what he has needed to do, I continue to keep my eyes closed tight. I remind myself again that I am sleeping. I am told from somewhere that this has been my fault and that I should never say a word of this to anyone.

In the morning I wake up. I believe I am a girl. I go down the hall to the bathroom. I step into the shower and realize that somehow again I have remained some kind of boy. If only the water could become hot enough to burn away this skin to expose the layer of skin beneath this appearance.

In 1979, I decide not to get a sex change. Decide that my body could never forget.

Now, I am an old man. A father. A girl. I battle amnesia, or perhaps it is Alzheimer's. Recall my girlhood.


The Wounded Tomato

Once upon a time a tomato was a tomato
but that was in the long ago.
Now everyone has come to know that a tomato is a metaphor.
Suspended in space and time. Neither vegetable nor fruit.
A tomato is a trap.

In the mountains a true tomato is rare.
A delicacy.
Something a brother and sister are never to eat alone.

She had wet the soil around the tomato plant with her breath.
Words slipped from between her lips into the roots.
Somewhere in the seeds of this tomato,
stories of her childhood began to unravel.

She sat with her brother at the table waiting for the tomato to ripen.
The tomato distracted them from thought provoking desires.
She placed a tomato between her brother's knees.
He learned patience.
On the night of the summer equinox,
he is taught to peel the skin of the tomato.

Days later the tomato began to shrink.
To rot.
Collapse in on itself.
The skin loosened.
Clumsy ancestral stories
that had been written on the underside of the tomato's skin became exposed by the light.
Dreams that did not happen that way.
Withered curses.
Warnings of pomegranates.

The brother and sister tempted each other with memories until,
exhausted, the sister bit into the tomato
without leaving a trace.

In the spring, these seeds,
the ones that remain from sister and brother, are planted.
Old stories are turned inside out and comfort the coming of new skins.