Image: “For Tony,” by Jacob Newman, digital collage on cardstock, 8.5×11 in., 2019
Burnable trash—the wet falling of whichever month it rains.
Maybe on a Tuesday, you met the forest without me.
A note fell off the fridge and became a secret.
My coffee beans (always artisanal) seem to mock me lately.
They hold a middle finger up to the grease stains that trailed
across our grandfather’s shirts, like Spanish maps.
He told us both to become something,
“Just don’t be an archaeologist like your uncle or a drunk like your father.
Be a paycheck and a summer home. Retire before you’re seventy.”
The men strolled down to the harbor to gamble on rat fights
and drink their suds without purpose. Their women slid knives
across the cool flesh of watermelon, almost like a dress rehearsal.
Where was I, and more importantly, where were you?
I should have, is everybody’s passphrase,
so forgive me for what comes next.
I should have asked God more questions; quizzed
the stars for answers like some French detective;
let our father roll his knuckles across your jaw less patiently.
I never should have left.
There should have been a moment when my hands grew palm trees
at their center, and your spine erupted into a cloud of orchids.
Maybe if we had cried, just one time together, and only
because the music had ended. But there never was music,
and there were never any tears. We were both grown men
before we turned thirteen; dirt caked fists and worn out bodies.
We were strangers who knew each other only in passing,
through the pictures that hung on the living room walls—
dark decorations of a reality that would never cease.
And even today, the fires at the landfill look like you signaling for me
not to leave; saying, “Turn back now or never turn around again.”
It Makes You Wait for It
I feel like I’m stuck in a rural Texas town
with no gas money to get myself home,
and if I kept walking until I found a new town,
it would probably be the same town.
Christine wakes up happy and checks the mail,
barefoot in that early April rain. She was due
in June when she died from pneumonia.
This is more than one person’s story.
The road you deserve has fallen pines at every mile,
deer flies that float together like a black veil and cover
your eyes with fearful wings. Or maybe it’s all milk
and honey drip-drip-dripping from the summer sky?
We could have been a pair of ragged claws.
It would have made no difference. We would still
be part of what came after—far away from the sea,
banished from the reef, mudding bricks for the tall towers.
Where does detachment take place? Maybe driving
through Cleveland. The silent ride home, a wren shaped hole
in your jeans exposed your bruised knee. There’s no secret
of this life that wasn’t hidden somewhere, right on your skin.
The daylight I see between us curls like a broken spine.
More specifically, my arms have stopped absorbing.
And at the end of the day, I consider myself lucky;
if I was any other animal, you would have fried my heart
with 1 large peeled onion
& ½ a stick of butter.
My hands smell like garlic.
I’m not sure why.
L’appel Du Vide
Whale white. Probably a silver blue.
You took this as your flame of purpose,
holed up somewhere in the woods like a bandit.
The first time I shot a gun, I heard my father
shooting a gun, who heard himself being born,
unexpectedly bathed in a flickering light.
We must forgive the weak,
wash them gently like newborns;
kiss their hands and pray for them.
I disagree. Forgiveness is born everyday,
and sometimes lost. Not all hearts scream.
Once melted, the brass pours slowly over everything,
and everything is brass, pouring slowly into memory.
brown bit of cloud trailed after the others, refusing
the mauve and umber light of sundown. Knowing
the pattern is not the same as having the pattern figured out.
You watched the geese watching me as I watched the sky,
wanting to ask them; Was he once one of you?
When they finally found my father, he was open
and silent, cold like midnight in the desert,
a flower tonguing for rain,
teeth all but missing.
Once melted, the gun becomes a cloud,
a blue flame silent in the woods.
This Was the Year
This was the year they drained the Smiley Face water tower
and found 47 cat skeletons and 6 bloated dogs; the year when
folks started keeping their pets inside, even on warm nights.
All eyes were on the children. All voices became whispers.
This was the year when a group of high schoolers snuck into
McIntyre’s Junkyard and Salvage and found the wedding ring
of a missing woman from Champagne, Illinois next to a barrel
of her emulsified remains. Her name and address were lasered
onto the thin gold band, like she knew one day she’d go missing.
This was the year someone in town was dissolving bones.
This was the Year of the Rooster, and your brother joked that there
should be a Year of the Moose, as we watched bodies being pulled
from the rubble of another building in Syria. There should be a Year of
Wide Eyes, or a Year of Folded Hands, or a Year of Not Looking Away.
But this was the Year of Natty Light—12 fl oz multiplied by an ER visit
and half a dozen bar fights. This was the year of selfish problems and bad
solutions; of water mixed with soap; of scrubbing blood off our hands.
This was the year the sun rose and set like a mouth of jagged teeth,
masticating on our hearts, minds, and patience; the year of numbness
followed by unrelenting anger; the year of waking up to another tweet
that pushed us closer and closer to a single moment of sailing rockets
and blackened skies. This was the year of learning that a minute can
erase a million lifetimes—that you are only free to stare at the clouds
for so long before something on the ground pulls the whole world under.
This was a lesson in just how quiet it can be
when you don’t make enough noise—
Me, holding a toy gun to a stranger’s head;
Remember when things stopped being ridiculous?
You, eating dandelions in a midnight field;
About the same time things started making sense.
One of the boys I went to summer camp with
carved a small cross for his arts and crafts project.
He won a blue ribbon and taped it to his Bible.
The next morning, I found the cross hanging
over our cabin door with a toad nailed to it,
crucified and still breathing.
Sometimes we wake up early enough
to hide the evil from our world.