Volume 15 • Number 1 • Spring-Summer 2023

James Cihlar

Jamais Vu

I am the confessor
I take and I give
The aftermath of memory
Hand me your shame
It is safe with me
In my cabinet of worry

I revise as I go
The forgotten is often
Imagine your cat
Coming home from the vet
Relearning the same space
Imagine the first time
Persephone left Hell
Touching the new green
Shoots of acanthus
The inelegant laurel
As if stroking her face
Not resurrection

I am your friend
Back me in a corner
I will tell you the worst
Even though it is a lie
We all agree it is important
To admit what you did not do
The unfamiliar routine
After confession comes repentance
Always in peripheral vision
The corners of thought
The history of the future
I am glad we are on the same page

Toni's Boys

Before we lost the Disco Wars, they were my gods,
“U.S. Olympic champion Bob Sorenson,
master of disguises and weaponry Matt Parrish,
rodeo rider, roper, and tracker Cotton Harper.”
I worshipped their feathered hair and spread collars.
A glimpse of what might have been, the decade
that never was, a season of my prime
taken down by Ron and Nancy and the specter
of AIDS. It could have been our favorite show,

the one that turned the tables and flipped the script.
“My husband had the best private detective agency
when he was alive. Now that he’s gone, I’ve taken over.”
A scared boy following an old woman in Nolan Miller’s
chic, gray wrap-dress murmuring with dramatic effect,
exactly. For me it was the beginning. At her age she knew,
if you hadn’t seen her before, you wouldn’t see her now.
Lying fallow through the dead period of forgetting.
Waiting for us to rediscover her oeuvre.

Fame is just another word for consciousness,
and what we call history is really only remembering.
If saying something makes it true, let’s try saying
what we want. “It’s time us ladies had something yummy
to look at. Take your shirt off. Is the rest of you that good?”
Haven’t had any complaints. “You’re a work of art.”
The series could have run for years, a cultural phenomenon.
Instead the spin-off never spun. I went into hiding
as records were detonated on the field at Comiskey Park.

He’d gotten dressed up for the AIDS test.
Came to my apartment after with a rose.
I said, I’ll move in but only if you stop going to the bars.
Still, it didn’t work. Why didn’t I walk out?
“The more difficult the hunt, the sweeter the kill.”
In order to speak you need to hear, in order to hear, speak.
Things that once seemed good now sound bad.
Let’s try the opposite of what used to be.
Care to join me in a glass of chardonnay?

The Modernists

God only knows what the skies
were like at the start—
sweet or salty, gray or pink.
The modernists thought they were the now.
At the turn, they made it new.

Secretly, the past is becoming our future.
I had a therapist once who chewed me out
for being gay. Another one who complained,
with you it’s always
problems, problems, problems.

In the twentieth century,
books went to court
in London, San Francisco, and New York.
Full of words, they could not speak
on their own behalf.

Now that I’m a post-postmodern,
our faults are my favorite parts.
I always get a laugh out of mine,
and always will, even when words move
further out of reach.

My father wanted a son who was a boy,
not a son who was a cloud.
In college I was tall and thin.
I wanted to stop my body.
I forgot about je ne sais quoi.

I don’t want to grow up again.
What if we had the view of after
during the in-between?
There’s always been an old man inside me
saying, Don’t give a shit.

The judge ruled, Honi soit qui mal y pense.
While the celadon sky still labors to stay above,
I wonder what the modernists
would have thought of today.
Maybe that’s a tomorrow question.

Catechism Class

Every Wednesday
after first grade let out at Hoover Elementary,
I went to Catechism class at St. Patrick’s
where we learned to memorize
the Our Father and Hail Mary

One day it rained
when class ended and Sister Margaret didn’t think
we should walk home in bad weather
so she told us to call our mothers
to come and pick us up

We huddled
with the Sister in the vestibule above stone steps
as mothers one by one pulled up to the curb
Each child called out That’s mine
and walked to an open car door

I saw a white Falcon
and I went to it but stopped when the door did not open
and I realized the driver was not my mother
I took off running on my usual route home
as Sister Margaret

yelled out the door
Come back don’t you want to wait for your mother
And I waved and said It’s okay the rain’s not bad
When I got home I asked my mom
Where were you?

She said
It slipped my mind I didn’t get around to it I was busy
That didn’t make sense and I felt a little less safe now
but I also thought Well it was an odd request and
I’ve walked in worse weather anyway

In CCD class
Sister had taught us about the Trinity and Sign of the Cross
explaining at length the concept of the Holy Ghost
I liked knowing how to bless myself
for protection

James Cihlar is the author of The Shadowgraph, published in 2020 by the University of New Mexico Press. His previous books include Rancho Nostalgia and Undoing. His poetry chapbooks are A Conversation with My Imaginary Daughter, What My Family Used, and Metaphysical Bailout. His writing has appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Threepenny Review, Lambda Literary Review, The Gay and Lesbian Review, Nimrod, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Smartish Pace. He earned his BA in English at the University of Iowa, where he studied in the Writer’s Workshop, and his MA and PhD in English at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He lives in St. Paul with his husband and cats, and is the publisher of Howling Bird Press in Minneapolis. His website is