The Big Hurt

Bad enough he peed on your Red Ball Jets.

Now, he rides a Schwinn ahead of you in a rainstorm,

and just as you catch up and shift to pass

he spurts ahead, tying a ribbon of water into a bow

around your face, one drop of which infects your lung.

Winter comes. You chain your bike, and thoughts

of getting ahead fade, like old bruises.

Spring comes and green doors open,

but suddenly there he is, building a new

home so tall the roof cancels sunrise.

His kids ride their bikes up and down

the oak tree in your yard, turning the leaves blue

and the branches red. Now his wife

poses naked in her bedroom window

and before you can turn away she cracks

a wicked smile. Christ, she must be the one

who drove across the lawn last evening!

Thank God she doesn’t have wings

or surely she would poop on your car.

It can’t get any worse, and at least

you’ve come to terms with it. You eat dry toast,

drink a glass of sour milk, and walk to work.

But look, his entire family gathers

at the sidewalk café outside your building

with banners and tassels, fireworks and root beer.

A parade sweeps you down the street,

girls twirl batons and marching bands play

a brassy version of an old Stevie Wonder hit.

As his sons carry you through the crowds

someone shouts, “I think it’s the President!”

Others laugh and recognize your face

from the Pez dispensers being handed out.

Yes, there’s your face molded in red plastic.

When someone pushes on the back of the plastic head,

your clacking jaws puke sugar.



John Cullen attended SUNY Geneseo and currently teaches at Ferris State University in Michigan. His chapbook, TOWN CRAZY, was published by Slipstream Press, and his work has recently appeared in The MacGuffin, North Dakota Quarterly, and the American Journal of Poetry.