At the Courthouse

I’m wondering how oysters feel
when we pry open their shells. The judge says
most experts believe they don’t feel pain
because pain has no point if you can’t move.
But there’s never consensus
because the judge can’t be sure
I feel anything and I don’t even know
what’s going to happen with my hands
as my license is sliced in half for a DWI.

I was leaving the casino or
going toward it, knowing
I was broke or getting rich
in a parallel world. The windshield
was the rear-view or the windshield
so the cop was either chasing me or the darkness
beyond me. He was slowing down
or I was speeding up and I was sober
or born drunk. Into the dawn or dusk,
the sun either a yo-yo or a lunatic,
I was blinking or falling asleep,
running out of gas or off a bridge
into a basking shark carcass
which was an oncoming semi truck.

The judge asks for a few words.
I say when I’m drunk I want to die
importantly. The judge says please elaborate.
I say I become a rat king wanting to be washed
and separated by a loving surgeon.
The judge says we all want that.

I worry about oysters
but they might feel paradise
like the person who wasn’t killed by my car,
a popping rush as light pours in
from behind the wrong side,
the ecstasy of boiling
in their own juices and the compliment
of being absorbed by obese gods
unaware of the ceremony.
I say my grandmother always laughed
at the oyster question.
The judge says ask her again.
I say her kidneys failed.

The judge shows a video: a lion,
its jaw kicked out by a hippo it kept attacking,
tries to drink from a river
and lies down in the mud.

The judge says you need to trust your hands
not to move unless you make them
trust that they won’t kill you everyday
anymore than they have to



Eli Sahm received his MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He was a finalist for the 2016 NC State Annual Poetry Contest and his work has appeared in Your Impossible Voice.


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