July Poetry from David Van Etten
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
Flapper Press is honored to feature a handful of gorgeous new poems from David Van Etten.
They used to call me Bubs, and they also
called me Noodles. Bubs was short for Bubble
Butt and was thinly-disguised praise, while
Noodles was a gently teasing, slippery fish.
When the doctor artfully butchered out
my colon and rectum, and I lost 70 pounds
to chemo, it mattered little what people called
me, so long as I existed in their waking thoughts.
I received a friend’s prayers with an ancient photo
showing off my plump little ass in the skinniest of
girl’s jeans, the Hudsons or Sevens I found on the
sales rack at Marshalls. It could be so much worse.
In 1915, the impressionist composer Claude
Debussy underwent one of the earliest ostomy
operations and concluded, “There are mornings
when the effort of dressing seems like one of
the twelve labors of Hercules.” Things got
better after they put me on depression pills.
Turns out the early 2000s era was one of the
rare moments in history when skinny jeans
were out of vogue in the market. In 1986,
my buddy’s mom tapered his grey Levi’s to
fit snugly in his high-top Reeboks and form
stick legs under his Union Bay pullover. Still
feels like the height of fashion in my youngish
heart. The tight breeches of the 1660s simply
flattered the legs under broad powdered wigs;
the tailored dandies of the early 1800s like
Beau Brummel conquered the Romantic soul,
until Beau exiled himself to France to evade
debtor’s prison; Elvis Presley’s pelvis twisted
and Audrey Hepburn’s drainpipe jeans were
alive, somehow both beyond gender and squarely
sexual. You can’t masturbate easily with an ostomy
bag staring up at you. My disappearing ass barely
holds up sweatpants. Hepburn fought bowel cancer
and lost valiantly. Vince Lombardi told Father Tim
he wasn’t afraid to die, but he regretted not
accomplishing more with his life. Bobby Moore
sang “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” at least
200 times before defending East London
from West Ham United’s foes. The man that Pele
called the fairest defender he ever played against
underwent emergency surgery for colon cancer
before death spread to his liver. The problem with
post-grunge jeans was the long, puffy crotch,
which suggested that boys needed acres of real
estate to house the old Hampton Wick and
Cobblers Awls. Whereas what boys wanted
was to live in your thoughts, same as anyone
who guzzles air in this confusing existence.
Nuestro amado hijo: We finally bound
dear uncle to the chair, after he
discovered I had new Nikes.
He was still drinking; I was
eight years old. The gang didn’t
come for me until I was old enough
to kill effectively. Dear uncle was dead
by then, but still warm; as they say,
you’re either with us or against us.
Dad had fled the country and left
those he loved most, as his refusal to
pay the gang its rent on his taxi was,
umm, troublesome. The Black Shadow
killed my cousin and threatened me as
convincingly as the gang did, because
you’re either with us or we’ll kill you.
I got a chill reading Anna Burns’
Milkman, when the young girl is stalked
by the Catholic paramilitary chieftain,
and her expansive tribe assumes she’s
his doll. I read voraciously, and want to
be a lawyer, but maybe a better lawyer
than the one who carries my life
in the palm of God’s hand.
Nuestra amada hija: We finally found
a taxi willing to take me to Mexico.
I held a baby in my womb that
was fathered by the gang, and they
vowed me dead and the child theirs,
if they found me. She is with me
now in the north, and she is my love
and my life. I was just a breath
over eighteen when I arrived here,
and thus don’t qualify as
an “unaccompanied minor,” which
means my court case will be much