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The Beheading That Made Me a Man in Two Sonnets Flat

Stephen Toskar: the American clad in his orange jumpsuit, head covered until the butcher, a heavyset magician in a black hood, pulled it not like a rabbit but like a spoiled melon from its sack, and placed it on the sand

For those who have been taken from us,
For those we have taken in return . . .

beheading

—the street poet Stiletto

1
The old man says the cause of my panic attacks
is the Internet beheading, that sadistic slaughtering
with a long, dull blade I watched in shock, the American
clad in his orange jumpsuit, head covered until the butcher,
a heavyset magician in a black hood, pulled it not like a rabbit
but like a spoiled melon from its sack, and placed it on the sand,

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eyes stuck shut. So when I tried to explain how men grunt like bulls
when a knife is drawn back and forth through the trachea—a parody
like playing bagpipes with a bow, an unspeakable music bellowing out
until the spine itself is cut—he called me a pussy. Then after I confessed
that every time I close my eyes, bits of that same video replay repeatedly
until I’m staring at the bedroom walls at sunrise, he threw Paulie Romano
from back in 3rd grade on Long Island in my face again, who every Monday
beat the crap out of me for having killed Christ, and wasn’t that really why,
after we moved to Miami, I refused bar mitzvah and gave up being a Jew?

2
When he simmers down, I drive him to Miami Beach, and sure enough,
after two kosher dogs with sauerkraut, onions, and yellow mustard,
he gets the runs, so I take him to the first public toilet we can find,
but three young toughs with accents are waiting there by the stalls,
demanding money to get by, and the old man, cojones like cue balls,
says Fuck this! and squats to shit right there on the slick terrazzo floor,
entertaining as much as grossing them out, so they let him by, but once
he’s in the can, they hit me up for the money, one flipping open his knife
when I refuse, so I lose it, run to my Jeep at the curb and grab my shotgun,

shoot him, then fire again while the other two get away. When the old man
comes out to wash his hands, he won’t even look at me. He just stands there,
hands braced on the sink, sweaty linen shirt smeared with blood where he hit
the stall door, head wobbling like a dreidel about to fall—twin cantors davening
in a mirror until their breaths deepen to a moan, a song of mourning. You’d think
his own son had died the way he carried on, instead of me finally becoming a man.

Stephen Toskar

Originally published in Arc Poetry Magazine