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Pamela Sumners

An Incomplete Hierarchy of My Wants and Needs


I want to be reborn with the gift of obedience, 

like Roentgen’s wife, who gave her hand to her

husband twice. The second time was the first

X-ray. She got radiation sarcoma and died. Me, I

was born with the Deuteronomy hand, the one

reserved for ball-twisting women, correcting all

egotesticle men in my stride. I told the elders that

I only meant to help my husband, but disbelieving,

they chopped it off just the same. Now, handless,

I have wished to become the unwitting or

complaisant family of Jonas Salk, his altruistic

experiment. That story had a far happier ending.

My own family, I could fold away like a wooden

Ironing board into a broom closet, trapped

In the irresistible, irrepressible memory hole.


I want to walk the Roman Road of my youth,

get right with God on the Appian Way paved by 

the Tabernacle of the Baptist Jesus Christ Lightning

Amen, my fervid adolescent hands waving wild

and intoxicated slain-in-the-spirit greetings to

Priscilla and Epaenatus (whoever they are),

because Paul says they are the first fruits of

Archaia (whoever that is) unto Christ. Instead

I’m stuck here in the 21st Century, succumbing

to the lure of the carnival. There is no revival

tent, just a red-haired barker shaped like a 

bowling pin wearing an oversized wide red tie,

shouting lunacy porn all along the midway.

Personally, I’m a little more comfortable with

a Chick tract quoting the New Testament with a 

fancy concordance, where Christ speaks in red 

for emphasis. Damnation in a nutshell. But, as all

the good nihilists say these days, it is what it is.


I want to be a trailer-park Scientologist.

When you have a conniption fit or get mad

as all get-out, I’ll just strut right off, full of

righteous tarnation, sighing a little at our quaint

indignities, and whistle past the cemetery. I’m

somewhat trailer-park adjacent by pedigree, so

I’ll be watching you play Vatican Roulette with

your birth control when you vote and prepping

the spit we use to barbeque anarchists over the eternal

flame of Ayn Rand’s grave. Let the doctors interrogate

the virus, a chorus of chaos in your morose lungs.

I’ll be just over here with the man whose hands

are bloody and small, sniffing for Rust Belt truffles,

reading “The Love Song of Lindsey Graham” and

dog-earing a luridly stained chapter or three.  Maybe

I’ll knot a January noose for the mashed-potatoes-

on-a-white-plate Leni Riefenstahl of our balkanized

realm, or be amused by your quisling children who think

the Equator is just a belt the earth wears to keep

its Southern parts up so we don’t embarrass ourselves.

As for us grown-ups, we’ll just keep passing the counterfeit

bill of whiteness while the cops squat on someone else’s neck.

You know I can’t prescribe any cure besides prayer, right?


I want to be all the people who are so much better

smarter faster than me, who go to all the right parties

and roll their own sushi, dolmades, and Rastafarian

doobies. I want to be all the good girls who are softer-

treading than me, who can smoothe any ruffled

feathers with a wink and caress that leaves no tell-

tale fingerprints. I want to be the one who keeps the

hummingbird feeder clean for the delectation of horny

ornithologists and plants the bulbs on time, mulched

before first frost in autumn’s insatiable air: a clipped, tidy,

Holly Golightly who could sport espadrilles in December

and wear a Job’s Daughters masonic pin on her bosom

because, well, Daddy. I want to fit effortlessly into my slot

as if by predestination in Emily Dickinson’s selective pew.


It’s so hard to find love in a millennial plague, but I persist.

I want a purpled old disastrous romance, with your face

a stricken radiance. I want a deep-fried homicidal love affair

where our maniac loves with both hands as the ichor drips on 

the Flora-Bama Temple’s marble floor. I want to know that 

ghost apples, newly devoid of their rot, hear the thud of fall

ing, that the fruit that had clung makes a difference to the ice 

form when it escheats to the snow as solute flesh: spent, alone.

Pamela Sumners’s work has been published or recognized by some 50 journals or publishing houses in the US and abroad in 2018-21. She was a 2018 Pushcart nominee and was selected by Halcyone/Black Mountain Press for 64 Best Poets in both 2018 and 2019. She has been nominated for 50 Best Poets (UVa/Meridian). Her first poetry collection, Ragpicking Ezekiel’s Bones, was published by UnCollected Press in December 2020. Her first chapbook, Finding Helen, a winner in the Rane Arroyo Series of Seven Kitchens Press, was released in 2021. Her second full collection, Etiquette for a Pandemic (& Other Social Distancing Protocols) (Backroom Window Press), will be released in Fall 2021. Pamela’s journal publications and literary honors can be found at

Sumners is well known for her constitutional and civil rights legal work, including cases opposing Jay Sekulow, Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore, Supreme Court wannabe Bill Pryor, and an Alabama governor who argued that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to Alabama. She formerly worked as an ACLU volunteer lawyer, the director of the LGBT Project at the ACLU of Illinois, and the executive director of a women’s rights organization. A native Alabamian, she now lives in St. Louis with her wife, son, and rescue dogs.

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