Conversion, David Appelbaum

Dale Champlin, BC Franklin Duck, Collage, 2021



A bus will come. You mustn’t not see to it. There will be souls who don’t know you. What you feel will be called fear. It was so. In shambles of front yards, children played, a new game for each house. You too are a child, different from others, held in by a membrane not unlike one that held us, dear brother, clasped in an amniotic sea. When it arrived, a woman took my hand and had me wait locked in a room for hours and days. I endlessly cried my indignation. Outside, birdsong. I couldn’t stop the rattle in my chest. A voice said I was ashamed. It was only a game we had called pirates. My job was conquistador and to chase the rest, sparing no one. My stick sword waved in the air like a winnowing cane. One eye, I remember, was patched with a bloody bandage and hurt from another fight. The thin woman with blue hair, my tormentor, was unmoved by a confession, which I made on the spot. She took me to a water fountain for my dry heaves. Afterwards I was told that something broken in me was fixed, but her words were not reassuring. The opposite felt true.

David Appelbaum

*Note: This poem first appeared in David Appelbaum’s collection of poetry, Portuguese Sailor Boy, The Black Spring Press Group (Eyewear Publishing), © 2020


Review by Massimo Fantuzzi

Conversion, aka the birth of the Super-Ego.

The thin shimmering line between the two tectonic plates of broken and fixed is explored here in all its lengths and ramification. Between freedom and captivity, alleged crime and punishment, guilt and redemption, healing and torment, we travel miles and years retracing our steps to a sort of original sin or traumatic discovery: the way our psyche had once dealt with those still shapes our identity and coaches our most inner set of beliefs.

Invited to drop our stick sword and defense and to remove the blood crusty eye patch, we look our conscience in the eyes just as they first opened following the collision between our primordial drives and reality. A new voice invades the playground, a new judge sits in court, a new kid is on the block, and if we manage not to get bullied by them, we might have just found ourselves a new favourite playmate.


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