“When I Made a Monster”

A Poem by Justin Phillip Reed

April 20, 2020  By Justin Phillip Reed

I glued it together against symmetry
from broken earthenware.
Withholding its sexual unsuccess
and omitting the mammy titty,
I wanted something useless to my enemy.

To never be milked even for water,
fed it a diet of paint chips.
It pissed a trickle of lead,
was as bald as a turkey vulture,
aerodynamic, retentive as a gutter.

In the cork-bottomed barrel its abdomen
creaked to keep contained, laughter
bounced bountifully, and each
explosion of hysterics lit from within
the voice box of a separate missing son.

White-scientific and electric-haired, I
hovered before its face and there
found my gaze unforgiven.
The proof puddled cruelly in the palm of my
steady latexed fist while its one eye—

as blind as it was incapable of sleep—
eyed me. For the life of me
I could not thwart its Jim-Boy
paradox: it always appeared to leap
backward to infancy but up the slope

of death. This was a matter in the epic
labor I daily laid out with a sharp
armamentarium, end-to-end, to end
the replication of my enemy’s illogic.
Surrounded by pickled tongues, I hardly spoke.

My monster had no first breath
and none after: I wanted it
too broke to be robbed
which seemed as much a myth
as my creating anything that they

would not eventually exploit.
And though, unlike all
of the poems that came before,
it would not close its circuit,
frenzy-cinch itself, and disintegrate

outside its sanity—since,
unlike my poems and much like
my enemy, it was without
a sense of allegiance to sense
and wouldn’t die simply by circumstance—

still, I pitied my contrivance
and was dumb with pity
and locked the hazard of pity
away from it at safe distance.


From The Malevolent Volume by Justin Phillip Reed. Copyright © 2020 by Justin Phillip Reed. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Coffee House Press. 

Justin Phillip Reed
Justin Phillip Reed
Justin Phillip Reed is an American poet and essayist. He is the author of Indecency (Coffee House Press), winner of the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry and Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and a finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He is the 2019-2021 Fellow in Creative Writing at the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics. His work appears in African American Review, Denver Quarterly, Guernica, the New Republic, Obsidian, and elsewhere. He earned his BA in creative writing at Tusculum College and his MFA in poetry at Washington University in St. Louis. He has received fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Conversation Literary Festival, and the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis. He was born and raised in South Carolina.

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