top of page

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.


Bonito Applebum

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.


Immutable Kinship

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