Back to Issue Thirty-Four

Conversion Therapy


In a sudden haze of kicked-up sand
I can’t seem

to catch my breath
on the beach and you insist

It’s a panic attack
as you shake out your towel

hand me the broken half
of a pale yellow pill

Take this, eat it
which I swallow

with watery wine and black out
in the car on Cross Bay Boulevard

just as the July heat lightning
strikes the sky Did you feel

that flash? you ask hours later
but the flash I felt

was years ago
through the soft sticky pads

plugged into a machine they thought
would shock me clean

I had to read Acts 9:11 when St. Paul’s
conversion begins when the Lord says

Get up and go
to the street called Straight

as scales fell from the saint’s eyes
as desire fell from my lap

as the church-appointed therapist coiled
the thick orange cord around his wrist

and wheeled the machine out passing under
a painting of Christ behind a sunburst

of broken bread
so when you broke in two

the pill, I too sat in a sunburst
of dying light

walked the beach and woke
to the same body I thought I had left

the same body my mother and father gave me
along with an abiding shock

of light to the back of my eye
it was when St. Paul regained his sight

that he got up to be baptized
to walk the beach drunk on a spirit

that sent him kicking up flumes of sand
and in the haze

in the panic of my life I took a pill
to believe in some small cure

Thomas Dooley is the author of Trespass (Harper Perennial, 2014), selected by the National Poetry Series. His poetry and collaborations have appeared widely, most notably with the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America, PBS NewsHour, and on National Public Radio. He has received fellowships from New York University, Starlight Foundation, Jentel Foundation, and Vermont Studio Center. Thomas is the Founding Artistic Director of Emotive Fruition, an organization dedicated to changing the way artists and audiences engage with live poetry, for which he has curated and directed over thirty live events and brought together hundreds of poets, theatre artists, and audiences.


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