Matthew Dickman

Self-Portrait with Sadness, Wild Turkey, and Denis Johnson

The congregation is sad.


Their books of daily prayer look up into their sad faces from the long

thin fingers of sadness because a man they loved, a man who lived

two thousand years ago, died while his mother stood below him in a blue

winter coat and trembled.


I wanted to be a priest when I was twelve.


St. Francis spoke to me on the playground the day Anton swung a bike

chain, cutting Martin’s lip in half.


He said—


This is the long and short road, the long arms of puberty,

and at the end of it

the wild fists of the Holy Ghost

holding you up by the short hairs.


I can’t remember what I said.

I probably said pray for us

or get out of our way.


On the steps of his brother’s house Carl and I read Denis Johnson and drank

Wild Turkey out of the same bottle so in a way our mouths touched, drew away,


and touched—


and he was tall

and he walked miles for a girl in reading glasses

and no one was ready for Summer to flip the short days into long days

like pancakes.


In this picture I am wearing a robe and lifting my hands up over my tonsured head.


I am breaking the bread of the neighborhood

before Martin falls off his skateboard,

before Christ begs his father to stop,

before the congregation leaves the church full of— what did Denis Johnson call it—