particle board

we built a fire in the backyard,
and it was excellent but hungry.
we brought more tribute

from the woods and creekbed,
stupid stuff: leaves, rocks,
discarded beer bottles, clumps

of dug-up roots. it wanted more
so we found rotten wood planks
by the shed, and a disassembled

desk from years ago, but before
we could chuck it into our growling
god, my brother’s friend, a hardcore kid

tatted and slicked-back hair, a bit
chubby, always calm, walked out back
not quite frantic, barely rushed, said

we can’t throw particle board
on a fire, it’s poisonous, he laughed,
and we believed and thanked him,

let the fire die because it seemed
that we’d almost died, suffocated
by the need to grow tall and wide,

chew up every piece of earth.
a few months later, my brother’s friend
killed himself with a gunshot

to the head. and just like that, it stops.


pop tarts

my singular achievement in this life, i mean
the thing they’ll say about me when i’m gone,
when they’re peering over the patch of land
where the scraps of my body settle forever,
and when they’re recalling me on holidays

as a form of obligation or when photos of me
turn up in their newsfeeds or in their hands,
is the pop tart sandwich. a pb&j with s’more’s
pop tarts substituting for bread. don’t mean
to ring the genius bell for myself, but ring ring,

this is as good as it gets, folks. i was in seventh
grade when the too-brilliant-to-be-true idea
haunted me all morning, followed me through
the algebra and chemistry i couldn’t follow;
i was solving elaborate chemical equations

in my brain, about how much jelly and should
i even add jelly? and do i toast the pop tart?
yes, i must for science. almost daily now, my friend
and i talk on the phone about the diets of 90’s kids:
fruit roll-ups, strawberry milk, pizza-flavored

goldfish, fruit by the foot. everything an imitation
of a thing you loved or didn’t know existed
and so knew only its false form until it became
reference for the thing itself. sugar masquerading
as other forms of sugar, and sugar is low fat;

besides, the sugar lobby and all the parasites
who bargained for its inclusion on the food pyramid,
itself an industry product taught to kids in health class
as scientific fact—eleven servings of grains per day—
(pop tarts are grains, maybe? honey bunz are grains?)

wouldn’t lie to a generation to make a quick fortune.
so i got home and stacked tarts and grape jelly,
chunky peanut butter, the molten rush of mallow
shiny from the pop tarts’ broken brown crust.
this was/is something special, better than that kid

at the serve-yourself soda fountain who combines
every flavor to end up with dark brown sweet seltzer,
no, this revolutionized how we eat. it wasn’t merely
combinatory, it saw the gaps in our knowledge
and plugged them with goo and dough.

seriously, what were we thinking? in san antonio,
just the other day, i bought a fancy faux pop tart from
an upscale coffee truck: puff pastry, thick fruit filling,
three-dimensional frosting—the nostalgic homage
to our ruinous childhood consumption. it tasted

like a real thing, which is to say, it tasted nothing
like the real thing.

BRENDAN WALSH has lived and taught in South Korea, Laos, and South Florida. His work appears in Rattle, Glass Poetry, Indianapolis Review, American Literary Review, and other journals. He's the winner of America Magazine's 2020 Foley Poetry Prize, and the author of five collections, including Buddha vs. Bonobo (Sutra Press), and fort lauderdale (Grey Book Press). His chapbook concussion fragment, winner of the 2021 elsewhere Chapbook Prize, is forthcoming from elsewhere Press. He’s online at