The Hugs I Can Remember
—for Chris Christie, after the GOP Debate, April 2, 2015

I, too, cannot remember hugging Obama,
nor my grandmother nor Jesus Christ
but, by all reports, all I have to do is kneel
at the edge of my bed and hug
my hands together to feel the hug of God.
And often, snug in bed, I remember
the tales I was told on Sunday mornings
that scared me senseless:
Abraham tying his son to a rock
and at the last minute slicing the neck
of a ram instead. So much bleeding
for what, a hope of rain, a hope
of delivery greater than any mother's womb?
And those names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
saying please to those flames in a way
I never could, nor wanted to. Last week
my neighbor's smoker caught fire
and when the neighbor kids rang her door
she shooed them away. She didn't believe
their shouts so they kept shouting
until she walked into her back yard.
The fire spread to the bush nearby,
the fire climbed the chain link fence
and got stuck on its pointy top.
She threw dirt and waited for firemen
to flip the grill and smother it
with a spray of white dust, which was,
as a child, exactly what I imagined
the holy ghost looked like,
or even my soul, some substance inside
me that was not me, that lived there
if I asked it to come inside, if I protected it,
kept it away from bad words,
from fried foods, the tattoos, don't even
mention the condoms
my soul would say daily, and because
my soul understood, it gave
what little consolation it could
by instead telling me to hug
my mother, so I'd hug my mother
with an anger and a fear and a hope
that these stories of being swallowed
by whales weren't real, but even now
these stories are all over the news,
are the reason why some women can't choose,
and I think of the long hug I received
standing outside of Newark Airport,
a friend in the throes of divorce, and me
standing there holding onto the doubt
I'd ever see my missing luggage again.

Josh Rathkamp's second collection of poems, A Storm to Close the Door won the 2015 Georgetown Review Press Poetry Prize and will be published in Fall 2016. His first book Some Nights No Cars At All was published by Ausable Press and is now distributed by Copper Canyon. His work has won multiple awards and has appeared in literary journals and public art projects, including American Poetry Review, The Southern Review, Narrative, Poet Lore, and Rattle. He directs the Creative Writing Program at Mesa Community College. (

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761