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Ron Riekki: See Me, Please

Image: Unsplash, downloaded ( 05.02.2023.

In prison, when they threw urine in my face,

they took all my clothes. They said it was evidence.

I was naked in a bathroom waiting, flushing my eyes

for twenty minutes in case there was HIV or hepatitis,

and the bathrooms were the second most dangerous place

in the prison, the most dangerous being the chapel . . .

and when he choked me in middle school, I didn’t know

he’d end up on the homecoming court and he straddled me

and his father was best friends with my father and he spit

a long slow spit so that it clung to his lips, not breaking,

and then he sucked it back into his mouth and then he did it

again, his spit hanging in front of my mouth, and he was so

popular and I didn’t know how much that was saying

about the world . . . and in the social work class, I felt some-

times like we were learning the art of humiliation, of bullying . . .

and I remember during the war when I went to the chaplain

and said that I couldn’t stay in any longer and he asked if I was

a conscientious objector, but he said the words like they were

floating in feces and there was an embarrassment to the words

and I said that I just didn’t want to kill anything and he was silent

and the pews were so dark, as if light had never been invented . . .

and ten of us would die and I would stay in and ten of us would

die . . . and I wish sometimes, so badly, that I could write a poem

where you could see my heart, which I feel sometimes, telling

the doctor at the VA that I’m worried, that I can feel it in my chest,

that you’re not supposed to be able to feel your heart and the nurse

said softly, no, I don’t feel my heart . . . and when they gave me 30%

disability, they also included in my acceptance letter information on

those who were killed that I knew and I wondered why they did that,

why they would give me the details about the plane crash . . . and in

boot camp when I cried the drill instructor grabbed me by the throat

and choked me so that I wondered if he was going to kill me and his

eyes ate my eyes and I realized if I ever cried again that he actually

might kill me and so I died inside and it was wonderful, so freeing,

this desperation for survival where I left my body and where I left

my mind and where he got me ready for the war and got me ready

for the prison and got me ready for the loneliness that fills this room

so deeply that all I am left with is this stunning feeling of my heart

in my chest telling me that I am alive but not for long so I had better

live in the woods because that’s where the peace is and when I was

young I would honestly try to get lost in the woods, on purpose,

would head into directions I didn’t know until I had no idea where

I was and then I’d try to find my way back home and it was always

too easy, because of the airplanes in the sky that let me know where

the airport was, and when I was a child, swear to God, my parents

took me to the airport because the news said that Muhammad Ali

would be there, and he was, and it was a small town and he was

there because the national boxing training camp wanted a small

town to train in where the boxers would have nothing to do except

train and I remember Muhammad Ali, his smile, and so I walked

straight towards him, passed the tape that they had told us not

to pass, but I was so little, so security didn’t know what to do and

I walked up to Muhammad Ali and sat next to him and he was like

God and his smile was like God’s and the cameras flashed like gods

and he looked down at me and he was so intensely happy to be alive . . .

When I was an EMT, there was a guy in back having a heart attack

“never say that I was false of heart,”

--William Shakespeare,

sonnet CIX

and I remember this cop

pulling up alongside us

and he motioned to me,

because I was the driver,

and he went to the middle

of the intersection with

lights on so the traffic

would stop and we passed

through and he sped up

and he went to the next

light and did the same,

so that we could go straight

through it and the guy in

back was having a heart

attack and I’d hated cops

for all my life, had a cop

pull a gun on me and tell

me to get on the ground,

motherfucker, and I did

and I was the wrong person

and I remember how I kept

shaking, all that day, and

the next day, and the next,

and this cop sped to the next

light and we drove through it

and I knew the guy in back

was going to live. I just knew.

I just knew it. We just knew.

My grandmother, as she got older, was more and more like the child she once was and I remember when she

asked me the difference


clouds and smoke and ghosts

and asked me the difference


poems and psalms and notes / that I scribble / that are / fragments / of thoughts / she found

and she asked

if ghosts

and smoke and clouds are fragments too / and they are / and then / she was gone.

My father told me

That blizzards are full of ghosts,

that you can see dead children

at the edge of the horizon

where the snow is at its most violent

and I asked him years later why

he would tell me such a thing

and he said that he’d never said it,

so the next time a blizzard came

through Negaunee, I went outside

and stared into the heart of the cold

forcing my eyes to open in the wind,

and my ancestors told me to go back

inside and so I did and the fire was kind.

My chronic pain is something I try to write out of me but it wins and I lose and I keep trying but it’s like trying not to die

and I’m a writer and I sometimes try to trick myself into thinking

I never cried in boot camp, but I did, and the drill instructor grabbed me

by the throat and put one of his eyes as close as he could to one of my eyes

and he told me that if I ever cried in front of him again that every person

in that room had permission to do anything they wanted to me and he didn’t

tell me what that was and I remember him walking away and realizing

that he’d just taken away forever my ability to cry and I remember the rain

that day and the crickets that night and how both were so loud and how

both were so insistent that I realized they existed and it was only a couple

days later when one of us killed himself in a way that I won’t tell you

because I want this poem to be published so that you can see that there is

a fire in my blood and blood in my fire and I beg for you to see me, please.

About the Author: Ron Riekki’s books include Blood/Not Blood Then the Gates (Middle West Press, poetry), My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Loyola University Maryland’s Apprentice House Press, hybrid), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle, nonfiction), and U.P. (Ghost Road Press, fiction).


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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