Matthew Guenette



Art by Jacek Yerka

The Other Way Around

My son asked for a quick bedtime story.
So I said time is the horizon of all being,
go to sleep. At which point he said
I think you’re wrong about that
dad, I think it might be
the other way around.
Good night!

I Was Playing Online Chess

Against this guy from Turkey. I don’t really know if he was a guy
from Turkey. He just said he was a guy from Turkey.

He could’ve been some dude in his mom’s
basement in Terre Haute waiting for Armageddon

while pretending to be a guy from Turkey.
You never know. I do know his screenname

was invincible, and that he was not invincible.
Not that I’m any good either—

I’ve lost probably thousands of games
to players with screennames like buttmilk and thundercheese2000,

even lost to a 10-year old once at a chess club
that met at an Arby’s on the east side—

that’s how the god forsaken roll—
where I had to act like it didn’t bother me at all

while this kid, slurping Mellow Yellow through a straw and picking
through a mountain of ketchup and fries, blitzed me to a mess

from the very first move. It was like getting beat up
by a teddy bear. Anyway, here’s what happened with invincible

I put him in check, and instead of saving his king
or just resigning, he logged off instead, with way too much time

on the clock, like a big fat bowl of crybaby soup.
If he was a guy from Turkey, he disappeared

into maybe 15 million other lives and the mystery of Istanbul
where you can walk from Asia to Europe while eating

a roast beef. Once time ran off, the game declared:
You win by abandonment.
Let me repeat that:


You win
. By ABANDONMENT. My first thought was: Of course!

Then I wondered what else could be won by abandonment?

Probably not parenting but how about The Powerball?
How about our jobs? That would give us a lot more

time on the big clock. I’d wrap my arms around
everything and try to stay high.

Paternity Test

MTV shaped        my ambitions. Nuclear strikes
eviscerated me in night                  mares in the 80s.
Among my friends are professors       cops, and someone
who went to Federal prison        for heroin. I have a hard time
reading novels. I      do not remember the birthdays
of my parents or the dates        of their deaths. Never dared
ask my dad about Vietnam.        Never want to live
in a cul-de-sac. I will say        I fear boredom more than death.
I make lists; I list.        When I am trying
hard to remember something        important, my shoulders tense.
I am a blue-collar kid        middle son
of a single-mother who never        caught a break. My dream
of freedom is to be debt       free. I have been un-
faithful in my marriage. My father        buried in his Red Sox hat
and Patriots jersey, as if        on the other side
of the border he was crossing        was a clam-chowder
victory parade. My        therapist wondered aloud:
“Have you felt guilty        and ashamed your whole life?”
Twice I have spent the night        in jail, both times
as a minor, both        times for possession.
Late-afternoon summer light        fills me
with an exquisite melancholy.        I can bake a simple
satisfying loaf of bread.        I am easily distracted.
I cannot bear to watch        slow-motion replays of athletes
getting injured, especially        knee injuries,
as I have blown out        my left knee three times.
I read The Things They Carried        thinking it would help me
understand my dad.        There was a handyman
in our town; an accident        involving a power line
had disfigured his face        my mother always hired him.
I worked with a chowder        cook; whenever I said
I was doing “good”        he would correct me:
“You mean        you’re doing well.”
               X                      Y

The Kids

They talk into a banana like it’s a phone.
             Vow to wash their hands for a million years
                           20 seconds at a time.
                                    They wonder about fate and the lines
                                    in their palms.
                                    Here’s the thing about the future:

                                     usually we don’t notice it
                                     when it arrives.

                                     A hundred years from now,
                                     when our evolved descendants have the technology,
                                     they’ll speak with us, the long lost dead,
                                     and ask about our unpainted
                                     drywall, our 3.7 quadrillion in debt, what it was like
                                    —if we were lucky—
                                    to put our feet up and be in our pjs all-day
                                   while we survived online.
                                   When you’re a parent,
                      the fate of your kids seems like your own.
        And I’m sure mine aren’t the only ones
who’ve watched some numb-nuts in a hazmat suit on TikTok
             blame the outbreak on a Chinese bio-lab
                          where they crossed a bat
                                        with a bullet.

I have to go in there, into that wedge of confusion,
              and pull them loose.
                           The future is where your thoughts can reach,
              And the speed of light at which
you can almost see. Then I show them something really good—
                                       how to fix dinner
                                       with just a box of noodles,
                                       a can of diced-tomatoes,
                                       and half an onion

that makes everyone cry when I chop it up.

 

Matthew Guenette makes a killer breakfast of fried eggs over hash browns with hot sauce on top. He wishes he could still play basketball, still dreams of that one time he dunked, and regrets never learning how to play the bass and joining a punk band. He dislikes peas. He’d like to plant a bee garden and lives in Madison, on eastside, which he calls the beastside, with his wife, their two children, and a 20 pound cat named Butternut. He is the author of three full-length poetry collections: Vasectomania (U of Akron Press, 2017), American Busboy (U of Akron Press, 2011), and Sudden Anthem (Dream Horse Press, 2008). He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Southern Illinois University, and his BA in English from the University of New Hampshire.

Matthew Guenette at Have Book Will Travel

Matthew Guenette’s American Busboy at U of Akron Press Idea Exchange

Matthew Guenette at Verse Daily