Rushing Pittman


Jen Mei Soong

In the Belly of the Beast

Rushing Pittman


This morning I crushed the sky for you. Blue dust all over my pants. I trailed it into our house. It shimmers. I think it’s toxic. You laughed when I dropped the sun. But it’s boiling in the bathtub, and all the pipes are bursting. Here is water from the Pacific. But all the reefs are dead. The venomous fish: stonefish, scorpion, tang, their spines and fins are rotting, and you’re sleeping at the wrong time of day.
          Before I went to rehab, you told me something important (you were cross-legged on our bed) something about change (you were looking into your lap) something about perception (I wanted you).
          You throw your legs over me before sleep. When I wake in the middle of the night, I rub your arms, smell your unscented hair, while at the foot of the bed the dog huffs, kicks the air, running.
          “No, I’m not a wheel. I’m a cat … like a panther. I’m a big blue canvas with black streaks and heavy and thin lines! And no one understood me except another painter in the room, and everyone thought I was crazy,” said Paul.
          Aren’t we all a bit lonely with soft lips and crow calling songs, just shedding noise with the creaking branches? Scuffs in the dirt?
          As if any violent action might occur under the stress of emotion. There is both spatial and emotional depth between adult and infant.
          The man on TV holds up the body of his dead wife, as if urging her to wake up to watch him stick a sword in his chest.
          When all the world is busy looking the other way, I plot my change breathing in the sap unimpressed by everything.
          And the sun cuts our bed like an axe trying to wake me or open me. Like in my dream the snake slithered above the oysters, and all the roots dug into the river as if afraid for all eternity that something would let them go.
          Sometimes the songs do not start. And you’re stuck on the highway behind an eighteen-wheeler that wants to plunge off the side of a mountain.
          One is limitless and the other a warm liquid pillow.
          But still, I’d be the cause. Bruising but not bruised.
          And one of the last things you said to me before I left, “Just know that you’re a good person.”
          The road which leads to an end.
          An expression of great guilt.
          Our home had filled with the beauty of the sick.
          Someone else said it best.
          Reach into the furnace of doubt. Hold the dying phoenix and sing for her.
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And that guilt. We both thought there was something to be done when there was nothing we could do. Only I could do.
          I’d like to fit inside your rib cage and feel your pulse with my mouth.
          Pure topaz in the dark. To become more rooted, in anybody.
          The first night there, I dreamed that I hit a man with a fire stoker. Then asked my dad for money to buy oxy.
          The second day I went to the ER. I didn’t know where my mouth was. It was filled with too much vomit.
          The counselor said, “It’s very hard to die. Our bodies want to live.”
          I remember taking Xanax and drinking more. I remember falling in our yard.
          Life got big. Millions of years in heavy water. In the early morning, the worm boasted two eyes. He saw a squid. A spotted sea hare. Mollusks on the ocean bottom. He tunneled a steep slope and hid in what he thought was the center of the world.
          I remember slumping over the kitchen sink and spitting.
          “Addiction is about your cage. Do you want to fix this?” asked the counselor.
          The other patients and I went to an NA meeting. I heard a story about a woman who, high on acid, threw up white vomit. She and her friends are still trying to figure out why it was white.
          I heard of a girl who took molly and has not spoken in two years, is indefinitely missed.
          My heart grew a second heart for you.
          I remember in Mexico I tried to convince you to take molly. That it would be a good time. That we could reach a new level of fun. I imagine you like that girl, speechless in a bed, eyes flicking around the room.
          The present sits on my back.
          I’m broken down into something small.
          In group therapy, Christine said, “When you hang out with werewolves, you’ll howl like a werewolf. If you’re a beagle, you’ll get eaten.”
          “Describe what it was like to do it, and the result of doing it,” said the counselor.

          Pain = Pain
          Pain + Nonacceptance (Control) = Pain + Suffering

          What should I be guided by? My urges or my experiences?
          “We’re having a feeling when we feel it in the trunk of our body,” said the counselor.
          A deer standing up from sleep.
          What’s the moment of birth? A new holy soul? A new heart made of flesh?
          “Often we believe our shame is greater than that of others. This belief is usually untrue and grandiose. It’s part of how we isolate ourselves,” said the counselor.
          An old pond with wood ducks.
          Like something loaded and ugly with faith.
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My addiction was like inching forward until the ocean gave way, and I was suddenly in the stomach of a decaying whale.
          How suns used to be about God making them specifically for me.
          The counselor said, “When getting sober don’t expect to be a saint. It’s a dead person’s wish to feel nothing.”
          Imagine that morning I left, you woke to an empty bed. The surface so warningly empty.
          “Has the drought gone on so long?” I asked you, and you said, “Yes, this long,” and held your hands two feet apart.
          What was my simple ruin? When I tipped the barstool, and my tailbone hit the floor?
          The preacher said, “Don’t go searching for angels, they will come to you.”
          The Lord said, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful for you to understand.”
          I no longer care about the shape and thickness of a line of coke.
          I remember kicking leaves to find the burrowed life, but it was only shadows on the hills that looked like men.
          It’s best to be safe with God and forgo absolutely everything.
          There were long months of destroying my life, but they went fast. Paul said, “It’s like a storm, but it’s also like a volcano, avalanche, waterfall.”
          So, I took my heart, ate it myself.
          Paul said, “If you do anything in life, you should swim with a horse. But right when you get out of the water, he’s going to want to rub his back in the sand. He doesn’t care if you’re on or not.”
          “No wonder I like him. He looks tired in the way I used to be,” said your mother.
          The last piece of meat at the table after Judas left.
          I was tired and had no towel.
          After I went through withdrawals, a counselor told me to stay awake all day so that I would sleep better later. I sipped my soda with tremors. The other patients saw. They laughed, and I felt better.
          “That’s all people really want, is connection and feeling like you trusted them with something,” you said.
          We sat in a beige room with limitless cups of water.
          I’m expecting a lot. I know, I can do that.
          But no one is looking.
          A night measured out in slices of sky.
          Which is good because the sky holds ghosts like silver veins, and they require above all else, a great deal of one’s energy.
          The counselor said, “Don’t forget to be rebellious. Just find something else to do. Addicts exist for a reason.”
          What’s the point in covering the truth if I must do so loudly?
          I used to spend a lot of time alone. Taking life very seriously.
          You said, “When I was a kid, I named a tree Magic. It got an infection, but it’s okay, Mom fixed it.”
          “Fish have grown more muscular heads, which means muscle is building up around their gills and perhaps they will live longer,” says the naturalist on TV.
          In an old way I love you. I multiply and love more.
          I help myself to the gardening supplies. I wear a sweater that smells like dirt.
          Grandmother said, “The art of not going to war is taught at home, at the dinner table. Respect begins with tone of voice and elbows.”
          Sitting outside is beautiful. There are no birds. I can hear everything.
          “Don’t compare, relate!” Paul yelled in the van on the way to an NA meeting. A boy who sat in the back told his story, “I was in a mosh pit so big, like 600 people, and it was so packed that I broke my arm!”
          Not that anything needs to be needed or understood. Not that anyone would ask me to forget. I didn’t know that I was beneath a volcano about to erupt. I only cared about going deeper to escape.
          I said in group therapy, “I guess I tried to end it, but I didn’t plan it, I don’t know.” The rest of the patients looked at me as if they knew the position I preferred to sleep in. Christine looked the hardest. She said, “It wasn’t you; it was the booze.”
          I wrote in my diary at the start of my life, I want a cat and a computer game. And sunny days. And kind people. That’s all.
          I stand on the porch thinking about how lucky I am to see a blue jay. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what boundary to place. I pour my brain in the grass and watch it sink into the dirt. I pull my tongue out and bury it with the rest.
          You must love me, that pure love. Like my mother when she winked after I dropped the dinner plate. “Who gives a damn?” she said.

          Rate the intensity of each emotion from 1-10 (1 = not much, 10 = a lot).

          “You have to make the decision to remain sober over and over. You have to keep it alive,” said the counselor.
          I remember when I didn’t know what to write in my diary. How life felt too big for a page and the page not private enough. Or something like a kingfisher with one wing, wobbling up to a lake and not knowing what to do.
          I remember the gulley at Dad’s farm.
          Dad said about controlled burning, “The first thing that comes back is dog fennel, and that’s not good, that’s going back to basics. I’ll tell you what, ground cover is hard to establish, and if you ruin it, it’s hard to get back in anybody’s lifetime.”
          The addict can hold in their voice until when they speak, they are only the addict.
          “The effort to control private experience can lead to a life filled with struggle,” said the counselor.
          Nearby a water oak rests its scarred torso against a pine, leaning in a grand, relaxed posture.
          “No one is guilty in disease,” you said.
          In my bathroom there’s a ladybug living in the soap dish. I let her live there because it’s her home.
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The preacher said, “We’re only shards of glass for God to reflect his life … some reflect it better than others.”
          Beneath the ocean surface a shark and in the shark’s stomach a rotting fish, and inside that fish another fish, and so on, to the atom.
          Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. With you I’m whole. I’ve said it twice now.
          “We’re searching for the man who lost his face to something in the water,” the anchorman on TV says.
          Now that I know what true love is, I refuse to be a watercolor and wash off.
          “It’s true that relationships are difficult at times. The only thing more difficult is having none,” said the counselor.
          You said, “Even birds bring little things to say thank you.”
          I cough up a fish to feed myself.
          The crayfish dries out her skin, and it feels wrong when she does it, but she does it.
          I was in the heart of me all along, walking down the street inside the heart of everything else.
          The cure was steeping my body in solutions I didn’t know the name of.
          Like I could be eaten and forgotten about or turned on my head.
          The preacher said, “It’s good to move toward what brings you life. It’s good to move toward what plays the arteries and vessels of your heart into joy.”
          There are so many churches, I don’t know where to step.
          But finally miniature compasses line my heart.
          I had to find that terrified, humble castaway part of myself to stop my clogged brain pumped with its own existence, fueled on chemical life, swarming with minutes and hours and the exhaustive act of dying.
          “A good lover doesn’t startle easily,” you said the first night you stayed over at my house. I pretended to be brave and cooked dinner.
          In my addiction my body was numb and worked perfectly. I fell too far into a wave with my chest full blown open. It was a second-by-second enjoyment of shadows. The way the glass felt full but quickly empty.
          When I left, there were many exits. Exit 23. Exit 24. You drove, and I was in the front seat swollen, craving opiates, amphetamines. The sky was regular quiet. You were kind. Told me that I carry my strength everywhere. Our chests finally heavy with the heavy waters of gladness.

Rushing Pittman is a transgender man from Alabama. His writing has appeared in jubilat, The Boiler, BOOTH, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and other various journals. He is the author of the chapbooks Mad Dances for Mad Kings (Factory Hollow Press, 2015) and There Is One Crow That Will Not Stop Cawing (Another New Calligraphy, 2016). He earned his MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is an editor for Biscuit Hill, an online poetry journal. He can be contacted at, and more can be seen at