Excerpt from True Confessions (and brief dreams) in a Time of Pandemic by Boyer Rickel

The New Kid (1962)

The new kid, bigger by a head than even the tallest girl, Maryanne, who had begun to shoot up the way girls sometimes do at that age, which makes some boys self-conscious in their presence, this new kid, Neal, was also clumsy, his feet even more out of scale than his height, and so we made fun of him when he stumbled, as he often did on the playground or even climbing the few steps at the cafeteria entrance. In truth, we bullied him. I didn’t know that then. I simply enjoyed being a part of the pack, the taunts and occasional shoves to see him struggle an opportunity to be released, temporarily, from my own strangeness, the sense I always had that I was different and had better do my best to hide it, avoiding especially anything that might reveal my fascination with the other boys’ bodies.

The Coven (1968)

Students from our high school gathered to watch, curious about the witches and warlocks they’d heard performed rituals beneath a giant mulberry in Daley Park the third Thursday of the month. Though our pantomimes and chants, the circle we formed, eight of us, arms at times upraised, were ludicrous, the apprehension in the faces of those huddled at a distance was real. They began to run across the park, shrieking in panic, after Debra and Debórah, tall and thin as anorexics, in long black dresses and long-sleeved blouses, who were the most serious about all this, turned toward them. We gave chase, but only briefly. What would we do if we caught somebody? I was confounded by the fear we’d produced. We laughed about it at the time, though the coven never met again.

First Dream of the Night (5/11/20)

I read about myself in the morning paper, working out at the gym, shopping at Safeway, buying stamps. Given the contagion, it seemed safer than leaving the house.

Spell (1976)

I looked up at my own face hovering above the guy I’d met at a bar, my forehead bobbing with the thrusts, a voice from beneath me moaning heavy-duty dude! heavy-duty dude!, its absurd, impossible insistence causing me to disassociate, not as if I was fucking myself, but the words, intoned like a spell, casting me out from myself and the act in which I was engaged, so that I rolled off the bed to break free, dressed in a flurry and ran from the apartment as if being chased by a mortal threat.

Last Dream of the Night (5/20/20)

When I awoke, all that remained was a sentence, though I don’t remember who spoke it: “We have a book of the Greek Ideal we can turn to, if it comes to that.” 

Good and Ready (2016)

That summer my dog Cloe and I came upon a dead cat at least once a week on morning walks. Year-round in our neighborhood we see Harris’s and red-tailed hawks, and coyotes sauntering along the streets, so it was no mystery how they died. One, reclining on its side, might have been sleeping on the sidewalk if the trunk weren’t hollowed out, a ribbed, fur-covered gourd, the cavity a bright red. Another, a gray tabby, was just half a cat—the hindquarters, including the tail—as if it had been used in a failed magic trick. The most macabre was a cat head, resting on its neck in a tree well, gazing out at the street. It wore a pink leather collar with plastic diamonds. That one no one claimed or took away for days. I couldn’t help imagining, each time we passed by, that its body was gently buried underground, that it would climb out when it was good and ready.

Also Named Harry (1982)

When my poet friend moved out of Tucson, also young, also gay, also named Harry, a name he’d also not been called by anyone since childhood, he left me his studio apartment, one of four in a charming 1940s-era house with original pastel tile and hardwood floors. In addition, he left me a box of unwashed dishes he’d shipped to Iowa City from Pennsylvania after college, then to Tucson after his MFA, as well as, high on a shelf in a utility closet, a four-inch stack of porn I worked my way through, a magazine per day, tossing them aside after I’d masturbated, until I came across the one with photos of various sizes displayed on numerous pages in a narrative that was disarranged, the handsome men half-clothed, then walking down a street hand-in-hand, then one kneeling between the legs of the other, and so forth, an approach I discovered could excite me repeatedly, unlike all the others, the randomness a reliable aphrodisiac.

Last Dream of the Night (7/23/20)

A six-year-old, I stand before a wall with two large plate-glass windows ten feet overhead. If I can climb through one of them, I’ll have the answer—to what, I’m not sure. Since I’ll never make it, I wander to a clinic filled with adults busy caring for the sick. “No one knows,” I reply to the questions they ask.

First Dream of the Night (8/24/20)

The size of a saltshaker, I slid down the pull cord from the pendant light above the kitchen table. “There’s nothing to worry about,” my friend said again, a giant by comparison beside the table, as I swiped frantically at a spider, its legs detached from its body, crawling down my thigh.

Algebra (1969)

“Now I gotcha, Honey.” The statement sent a shock through the room. We didn’t know whether to laugh or mock. Kelly had said it, hand on hip, gazing over his shoulder, a come-hither look to match the come-hither tone, having solved, finally, the equation at the blackboard, helped by his friend Grady, who’d called out that he’d transposed the X and the Y. Perhaps I was the only one made slightly giddy by that tone, a sensation I’d feel a year later, sitting with my girlfriend, Sally, in the darkened theater, at the moment early in “Boys in the Band” when Donald wraps his arms around Michael, the party host, as Michael primps at the bathroom mirror before the other guests arrive. Given the size of the class, odds are at least one other boy felt he’d been called.

Last Dream of the Night (9/9/20)

Half in dream, half out, I felt relieved when our professor, from the podium, acknowledged that we were all falling behind. He announced that from here on in we’d spend two weeks on each reading about the pandemic rather than one.        

Last Dream of the Night (9/16/20)

Though in a competition to win a flight, I wanted to wake up, frightened for the passengers as I watched the daredevil pilot execute loops and spins overhead. Struggling out of sleep, I had the impression someone was holding my hand, trying to help.

Boyer Rickel is the author of Morgan (a Lyric), forthcoming from Gold Line Press, winner of their 2020 nonfiction chapbook contest. His other publications include two book-length poetry collections, remanence (Parlor Press) and arreboles (Wesleyan), a memoir-in-essays, Taboo (Wisconsin), as well as three poetry chapbooks, Tempo Rubato (Green Linden Press), Musick’s Handmaid and reliquary (both from Seven Kitchens Press). In addition to awards from Prairie Schooner and Tupelo Quarterly for lyric essays, he has received poetry fellowships form the NEA and Arizona Commission on the Arts. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.