Brandon Thurman


Church Camp


The boys bunk in myth, in holy ghost stories
slick with gore: a putt-putt club striking a boy in the eye,
orb hanging from bone socket by mess of strung flesh.
My eyes throb in time with their words, every tendon
tight as I fall asleep & slide into a blurred, wordless dream
about our camp counselor. In the dream, his hand, all sinew,
skims my shoulder & my cheek, his face a prism of grins;
my body processes this tenderness, stutters, crashes,
jerks awake, wet. I pull a gift-store T-shirt over my head—
fire cracking the black, Satan’s boiled-red skin bubbling
into a puddle—& sneak to the bathrooms to wash off.

My mother always sent me with a red Kibbles ‘n Bits bucket
chock-full of dollar store candy to share with the other boys.
A queer, broke love: Chick-O-Sticks, Chiclets, Mary Janes,
tart rainbow candies strung on a necklace. Dog food
love, barely edible. Love that got stuck in your teeth.

In chapel, God addresses us through puppets
& magic shows. All the children pray for God
to baptize them in the Holy Spirit, to dunk them
in a tank. They come up drenched, laughing
in every language. My tongue is thick & wet,
lolls around in my mouth like a gutted snake.
Sometimes you just have to get started, they tell me,
like kick-starting an old lawnmower after
winter. I try, shadda-shadda-shadda. Nothing.
Try, shadda-la-hadda-caddo. Nothing. I watch
a roomful of boys falling into each other’s
arms, their tongues full of mysteries, trembling
with God’s embrace, eyes torn open with light.

Back in the cabin, when the counselor steps out,
the boys play Truth or Dare, revealing themselves.
I learn how to lie, to hide behind the straightest
faces. One boy is dared to take all his clothes off,
& the summer air fizzes with snickers & nerves.
I snap a candy from the necklace between my teeth.
The boy strips to his underwear, stops, then slinks
them down slowly, kicking them off at his ankles. I feel
my pulse in my eyes, teeth grinding the sweet to dust.
He scrambles for something, anything to hide behind:
a blushing boy behind a broom, blooming pink.
God touches my tongue, & I begin to sing.



Brandon Thurman is a behavior analyst and poet living in Fayetteville, Arkansas with his husband and son. His poetry can be found or is forthcoming in PANK, Zone 3, Glass, and Noble/Gas Qtrly. He tweets @bthurman87.