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On the Way to Church Camp You Miss the Border Between Nightmare and Memory

CJ Scruton

Blurred hindsight feels a lot like those movies,

where it’s all older counselors running around,

twentysomethings styled to look

like the brooding art goth, the ditz, the jock. You can’t

recall which one you are, are supposed to be. And something

stalks, some delay pedal cough sounds

in the floodlight forest as you run through it.

You’re enough of a kid to be dumb,

have reckless fun and get yourself killed

for your genitals

or unspeaking thoughts—but not

so young anyone will feel bad for you

being chopped down. 

They bring their hands to their faces

not for you, but for the saturated cornsyrup gore, the sight

of what’s on the inside.

You are not so young

the audience can’t flinch and then forget,

remind themselves you deserved it—

were asking for it, really, running off

like that, hitching rides alone, walking the woods

with strangers at night. Not so sinless

the highschoolers at home can’t make themselves forget

your begging, your blood

an hour after the tape stops and the party ends. No,

everyone has moved on already.

But they still have to walk together to their cars to feel safe

in numbers, and they all remember

what real life must feel like, watching their friends’

dark warm breath cloud under the stars, stars

they’ve never seen quite so clearly, they realize—

they’ve never wandered out this far from town.

CJ Scruton is a trans, non-binary poet from the Lower Mississippi River Valley who is currently living on the Great Lakes, where they teach and research ghost stories. Their full-length poetry manuscript has been a semifinalist for the Pamet River Prize at YesYes Books and a finalist for Willow Springs Books’ Emma Howell Rising Poet Prize. Their work has appeared in Shenandoah, The Journal, New South, Juked, and other journals.

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