Poetry Issue #57

It Was Not Midnight, It Was Not Raining

Let’s call this our sixth anniversary.
Yes, we married last January but six years ago
drank our first pints together—the two of us

at Kelly’s swiveling on corner stools, talking
Beckett and Bashō like we knew something.
It was Halloween. We met a man named Elvis

though he wore no jumpsuit, no bejeweled belt,
just jeans and a T-shirt. You bought him a shot
of Jameson and we waxed political and maybe

we were figuring things out—clarity among drunks—
until Elvis said, “You know, I might be full of shit.”
Aren’t we all. I dodged princesses and superheroes 

walking home then fat raindrops as I reached
my stoop, the sky as purple as a fairy tale.
“Are you a believer?” you’d asked
and I said, “In what?”
You should have said, The velvet seduction of a dark bar
but instead said, “Happy Hour, of course!”

And I said, “Why yes, yes.”

This is a god I know.


Now Judge Hoots has proclaimed us husband and wife.
We exchanged rings in a three-minute ceremony. 
We ate lunch at a fancy restaurant. Then a week later

in our back bedroom, your mother died. We knew 
the cancer would render her, knew it like the end
of a movie. “Let’s dance,” she said as we waltzed

from bed to chair, from chair to toilet,
my arms around her hips, hers around my neck.
The name for this is transfer

Transfer the patient from A to B,
      from wheelchair to hospital bed,
from the anxiety of living to the panic of not.

Feel the patient’s breath on your cheek.
Hear her bones pop as you help her stand.
Watch her body atrophy: the skin, the hair,
the unfurling stick-figure limbs.


I tried to read Beckett. Really.
But those paragraphs.
Those dark rooms and choppy sentences:
It was. It was not. I am. I am not.
Forgive me for returning The Trilogy (mostly) unread.

The earth’s loam is made of tree root, charcoal, limestone,
teeth, bone marrow and fat.

Sometimes at night I feel silt packed
between my vertebrae, water dissolving my ulna or hipbone.

Should we become glued in the amber of the living,
who will wear us as a pendant around the neck,
or display us on a slick, mahogany desk?


Above the kitchen sink, we keep dried roses from Valentine’s Day
a small vial of eucalyptus oil, an ancient flowering Parodia.
I don’t know how wide-eyed cacti on a windowsill survive.

I don’t know how long we sobbed.

It was midnight. It was raining. Thunder clapped
behind silver streaks of lightning.

No—it was sunny. Her spirit slipped out
an open window. Then the night gave us stars.

It was sunrise and peacocks crowed in harmony.
It was evening and crickets sang nursery rhymes.

It was quiet. We carried our throats in paper shopping bags.

In stillness we were pushed and pulled
as dirt is pushed and pulled between mountains.

In the concave of your naked chest, I hear her breath.
I am sorry you must finish this life without her.
I am sorry I never read Malloy.

This, Then, Is How the World Oscillates—

             long-stemmed daisies acquiescing to the wind,
trees in natural disobedience. No one feels the spinning.

A family in 1978 sits down to a rabbit dinner with sweet tea—
     women in church dresses or flared pants,
men with cigarette packs in their breast pockets,
            children with freckles and ratty hair.

Now the old are dead or nearly so,
     and the young are feeling the first pains of dying.
All the while bumblebees copulate with clover flowers,
            sun-glint on their hard-shelled backsides.
All the while radish roots push toward the frostline,
       and traffic stretches to the city like an elastic band.

There’s probably a mathematical formula that explains
            the drag and thrust of Toyotas and Oldsmobiles.
There’s probably a formula that explains it all—
      the biodegration of bee chitin, the bitter taste of radish pulp,
the malingering trajectory of pollen and car exhaust.

If we knew the arc of our heart-threads unraveling,
would we still entangle them in a desperate collective entropy?

        The Japanese symbol for “release” combines
the characters “direction” and “winter.”
            The study guide as a mnemonic says,
“The trees must release their leaves for the coming winter.”

      How easy it should be, then, to let it all go,
to let this language of syncopation and coupling implode.

Roadside Assistance

Wednesday—car won’t start. Called for a jump.
Should’ve had it fixed then. Should’ve gotten Triple-A.

Friday—car won’t start. Supposed to visit parents out of state,
instead took a bus to AutoZone. $120 on a credit card:
ratchet set, battery charger, lead shim for a battery post.

“Shake the cables,” my father says over the phone.
His lungs are failing. His heart, too.
He needs a drop of morphine to sleep at night.
“It’s just a loose connection,” he says, “I’m sure of it.”

Car fixed by Saturday. Half a week for a one-hour job.

My father says to my husband, in good humor,
“You could fuck up an anvil.” We’re basically kids
hitchhiking from town to town, our thumbs wiggling
like blind moles poking out of the dirt.

Monday—car won’t start.
Turns out, we left the dome light on.

By Jen Ashburn

Jen Ashburn is the author of The Light on the Wall (Main Street Rag, 2016) and has work published in numerous venues including The Fiddlehead, The Writer’s Almanac, and Pedestal Magazine. She holds an MFA from Chatham University, and lives in Pittsburgh.