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Fear Factor

Timothy Bradford

After the endless cable trellis of death
lined with yellow flags waving
like the garland of vomit
out of a mouth that had said, “No fear;”
after the actual beard of bees,
200,000 venomous barbs loaded
on little fighters, all nicknamed
“Stinger” by their mother, the queen;
after a snack at the entomologist’s
café, where a sad, sagging species of a man
cries quietly in the corner
as another young body
wolfs down his prized Madagascar
Hissing Cockroaches; and after
the endless Plexiglas boxes
and mazes, all locked at one
point or another, all lowered, slowly,
at the speed of breath, into cold,
cold water lit for the cameras, it’s time
for the fear factor to kick in.

A quiet bar on a sound stage. A set.
A set up. A father enters. The father
you’ve never met. You have to sit
on adjacent bar stools and talk about
what happened to him. What happened
to you. No alcohol is served. The set
is locked for an infinite duration. You must
find some resolution. His eyes are
black, smoking guns, his mouth a
Scylla of words, his head just a balloon.

Or an older sister who lost you in the woods
when you were young, before
you were kidnapped and raised,
violently but alive,
by bears and wolves. You must have
a proper tea with her, and one wasp will be
released into the room for every drop
spilt. You must ask her why
she spent so long at the mirror in the bathroom
before coming out to a sky as blue
as your eyes without you.

Or a girlfriend who left you because of
the distance, a boyfriend who left you
for his own cold, wet pain—the LSD
is FDA approved for the show’s use,
and it kicks in as you are both hung
by your heels to honestly work things out
before you can be released. Never mind
the tiny, gnawing mouths of rainforest ants.
Nothing compared to what spills out.

Or yourself, left in the warm dark
of your own skin, twisting like a flag
in the vomit-laden wind of thoughts,
with a healthy rash and a hard
concrete floor to aid in the self-made
inquisition, the healthy bastinado,
the cat-o-nine-tails’ mental rise and fall
until you drop the illusion of yourself
and your pain, or the signal
that you quit, a white, dimpled golf ball
marked “Titleist” that bounces like
what’s left of you.

Timothy Bradford

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