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D.J. Savarese

Beer & Wasps

We lived near

some railroad tracks

in Gainesville, Florida.

It was summer—

I was three, my sister four;

we were both very hungry.

A wasp had followed

us back from

the ABC store

where my birthmother

had just bought a case

of beer.

As persistent as the Florida

heat or the men

that hovered around

our single-wide,

asking for sex,

sometimes even flashing

their stingers,

the wasp pursued us

with its constant buzzing.

Mother would down

a beer, dodge

that yellow dart,

and discard her empties

on the sidewalk.

It was as if

she were afraid

of getting lost

and needed

a trail of beer cans

to find her way


or what I now think of

as her home,

that alphabet land

of booze.

When she was arrested

and we were all put

into the back of a cruiser,

I clasped my hands

over my ears,

fearing that sonic


might begin again.

My brain was like

a bottle of cheap, red wine

splashing all over

the seat.

After she sobered up,

mother left us

at the station.

An officer said,

his voice too cheerful,

“Hey, little man, have you

learned your ABCs?”

When I did learn them,

I pictured fifty different kinds

of beer, a liquid


of ruin.

I had been adopted—

after three years

in foster care.

My sister was in New York;

my birthmother had


All I had left was

the prick

of memory.

In this way, beer

and wasps

gave birth to poetry.


Like bats, their voices boomerang.

My birthmother says, “We’re out of booze,”

as if a three-year-old autistic kid could run

to the liquor store. My birthfather calls me

“R- .” These words have wings:

they hang inside my skull and then, at night,

plunge and pounce, though many years

have passed since I was taken from them.

Baby bats fly tucked inside their mothers’

pouches; they must endure the stealthy

and tumultuous hunt for prey—

the click click click of echolocating pulses.

Does a baby bat experience fear?

I would scream whenever my parents picked me up

and staggered across the room. Tucked inside

their need, I’d find myself searching

for drugs or booze.

Sometimes in dreams they come for me. I can hear

the flapping of wings, the terminal buzz—

nearly 200 clicks per second. “I am in college now!”

I shout. “I have a new mom and dad!”

My cricket heart hides in the grass.

Abandoned at Three

Poor child! he's as like his own dadda

as if he were spit out of his mouth.

—George Farquhar, Love and a Bottle (1689)

Mother of the twelve-pack, mother, did you miss me?

Your genes place their rough hands on my face; they kiss me

(as you never did), they cry, they tousle my hair.

Giving thanks to god, they say, “It’s you! You as me!”

The prodigal son has returned, spitting image

of a Lucky Strike whore—snarling, wistful me,

who once thought anger was a kind of redemption,

its obsidian aftermath a twisted me,

a heart as black and buried as a Pompeian’s.

“It’s me! Me as you!” I say to the mirror’s me,

to the you lost in love’s reflection. You were poor,

alcoholic. You sold your body in Kissimmee,

Florida. Thrice you tried to drown me in the bath;

thrice you stopped yourself. O Rhonda. O David James.

Our Lungs Again

There will be no more hunting and we can understand our lungs again.

– Harmony Holiday

1. Fostercareless, Faster Family

Done gone silver sister. Done gone birth dad. Doggone, dung-heap, dung dad. In Florida we had fear conditioning, central air for the young child’s developing brain. Lung lunge, nose need, pure, Pope-like terror. The soul is God’s bad breath. Red rover, red rover, it’s really not over. In dreams, I dredge the pond for mom.

2. When My Sister Was Persephone

Demeter was drunk. That dimwitted daffodil fell for any old sun. Wife-beater wind, muscle-crowned cock, king of the black and blue morning. When Hades abducted her, my lungs filled with ice. Amber alert, memory’s pervert. Underfear, underfar, underfoe—“She’s my sister! Assist her!” I moaned.

3. Heartwood

The wood stove wills a fire; the wood stove burns my heart. Duramen by the cord; dura men lord it over the tree-child, that silly, life affirming sap. A second intake valve introduces air into the hottest part of the firebox. O fire-prayer! O sassafras! I said, “Get over here and kiss my ash.” The lungs of hell breathe flame and go on living.


David James “DJ” Savarese ( is an artful activist, multi-genre writer,

scholar and teacher. A 2022/23 Iowa Arts Fellow and Zoeglossia Fellow, he is the author of

Swoon (2022) and A Doorknob for the Eye (2017)and a co-author of Studies in Brotherly Love

(2021). His lyric essay “Passive Plants” was a notable essay in Best American Essays (2018). His recently published scholarship includes “Disrupting the Garden Wall” in Logic Magazine;

“Enmeshing Selves, Words and Media, or Two Life Writers in One Family Talk about Art and

Disability” in Er(r)go; “Coming to My Senses,” forthcoming in Neurofutures; and “Unearthingthe Concepts That Bury Us,” forthcoming in an anthology on Disability and Dialogue (2023). Co-producer, narrative commentator, and subject of the Peabody award-winning, Emmy-nominated documentary Deej: Inclusion Shouldn’t Be a Lottery (2017), he co-teaches poetrywriting through the LYNX Project in Chicago. As Co-Chair of The Alliance for Citizen Directed Supports, he designed and directs The Lives-in-Progress Collective.


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