Benjamin Niespodziany

Swamp Water Sponge Bath, or: Three Poems


One.// Bittersweet Breath

I drunk dialed my third grade teacher
last year, planning to use curses of windstorms,
hearse words of blisters, inquiring as to why
she had to make fun of my alfalfa sprouts
at that age, enough shouting my way
for me to lock myself in the bathroom of too much
shaking to figure out to exit from the inside,
ask her why she saved her friend from choking
at an Olive Garden but continued to call me
a Little Shit to my mother after wine at an event
on an early evening on a Thursday. When I called,
myself a slur pot, her husband
answered and I played it cool, a lip-stirred fool
pretending to be a gym membership looking
for Mrs. Blackberry, but when I mentioned her name,
he sniffled or he sneered, I couldn't tell from the phone screen
smear, then he muttered, “She's gone for good,”
and I told him I was sorry to hear that, that I'll be sure
to cancel her subscription and remove her from the calling list,
my breath strong enough to light a stove.


Two.//A Satchel of Paper, a Pocket of Nails

What do you call a blank scrap of paper nailed to the wall? If it's in your kitchen, do you remove it? Do you add to it? Do you lick it in search of invisible ink and sit around to see what happens? What if the paper is in a museum? Do you weep at its potential? Do you tell your friends about it? Do you ponder it for months? What about if it's on a man, bleeding in silence in the middle of your daily elevator up to your cubicle? Do you pry it from his heart and watch him bleed out? Do you pretend like everything's fine? Do you write on it, using the pen in your breast pocket and giving the man your phone number, telling him, “You can call me at any time if you ever need anything”? I have no idea what I'd do in any of these situations. That's why I'm asking you.


Three.// Creek Stomach

He's sick all the time
because he flosses his teeth
with river water. We call him
Creek Stomach. His mom
knows the school secretary
by the sound of her greeting cough,

six cigarette breaks a day
to keep the nerves aloft. Creek
Stomach has his mom call him
absent every other Tuesday,
sometimes a rare Wednesday,
where she tells the receptionist

it's something to do
with his stomach, 'Maybe
a watermelon seed sprouted, finally
started growing in there', but even the lady
on the other line at the school
doesn't find out until later that Creek

Stomach was actually never sick,
instead was in therapy sessions
for stabbing a student with a fork
when they were both in kindergarten. 
Now at a new school, Creek Stomach
doesn't want the story to bleed

into the rumor barn haystacks.
He'd prefer to resemble a swamp
kid or a dirtball over a sword
demon with classmates looking fearful,
so he tells everyone his family
doesn't have good water, makes him

sick every other week, but he thinks
he will be back to normal by tomorrow.
“We're expecting a new sink
any day now. My mom promises
everything will be better
this time around.”


Benjamin Niespodziany is a librarian at the University of Chicago who owns and operates the multimedia art blog [neonpajamas]. He has had his poetry featured in tenderness, yea,, and Water Soup Press. At the end of 2017, he self-released a chapbook of prose poems known as Dress Code Aquarium.