Charlie Peck is from Omaha, Nebraska. He received his MFA from Purdue University where he served as Editor-in-Chief of Sycamore Review. His work has appeared previously or is forthcoming in Cincinnati Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, Massachusetts Review, Quarterly West, and Best New Poets 2019, among others. He currently teaches at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.
In the suburban basement of seventh grade
and Nintendos, we spun the empty wine bottle
for Ryan’s 13th birthday party, and when I pulled
away from Sierra she wiped her lips and said,
Really? Oh humiliation, that first kiss
outed by my clumsy mouth, sweet with
Pixy Stix and grape soda, the neighborhood
kids teasing me for the next five years,
boy of braces and bad mouth. In late high school
came the rusted sliding doors on every minivan,
drive-thru taco sauce staining my shirt, the prairie
grass storm-wet and flooded with grasshoppers.
Days I saved drowning toddlers at the local pool.
Nights I napped through dinner to careen in the four-
door on gravel backroads, corn stalks whipping
by the open window, chopped voices from a bonfire
I barreled past. Then I was twenty-one in the basement
of Poor Paul’s Pourhouse spinning the wheel
for my chance at a free pitcher, the HVAC vents
coated in grease and smoke, while Sam screamed
for a bar rag to wrap the cut on his hand.
I knew a couple who had a kid: healthy, brown
hair, fat cheeks. One day a blood vessel burst
in her head. Found dead in her crib
with blood-flooded eyes and purple lips. After
that he drank too much and she kept a boyfriend
in Fremont. I always had the kind of friends
I could stay up late with, a case of Hamm’s
and some plastic chairs in a yard, cold October
breeze keeping our coats zipped to the throat.
I blame only myself for the language of fiction
I mastered to avoid truth. How I discipline
fear to avoid facing anything head-on. One night
I climbed the waterski jump at Lake Metigoshe
as my friends yelled from the boat below. I paused
in the July night before leaping. My feet split
the cold green water, then tangled in the long
weeds that rose from the lake’s bed.
In the Courtroom at the End of My Life
Your Honor, I am but a simple fucking idiot,
so please, I beg for clementines or whatever.
As a boy I watched my pet tadpole become
a frog. Your Honor, I was never a tadpole,
so I’m shocked this is what I became. Ladies
and gentle friends of the jury, think
about the last time you were in the city
and saw two friends climbing into a cab.
The first one sits, then scoots to make room.
My whole life: the wrong spot, then laughter.