The Pedestal Magazine: "Go Fever"
Nights, I think of the moon’s cataract
glinting off the stunted teeth of bear traps, the releases so strong
most men can’t hold both ends to set the mouth. Many
use a long wooden plank, leverage versus brute strength.
The clouds like floaters on the eye. A lady shines spotlights
on the teenagers smoking in nearby driveways,
which is another way of saying Remember me. Count the ways
you ask to be remembered, walking home holding your dignity
like a shy cat. I am crossing the street the long way,
I am setting fires in the churches of beached debris.
Words are nothing, but the kind of nothing that keeps you
motionless in bed waiting for sleep, the kind of nothing
that follows you home and waits at the window.
My great uncle was stabbed in a bar in Oklahoma
arguing with a man. His sentences made a tunnel
through which death came. The sun is always cold
in your memories. Towns along the river lined up, browning
like old teeth with nothing to bite. We have forgotten
the moon again, the same as every sunrise before this.
Love hangs on a nail in the shed, a white line
traced around it so you notice if it’s missing;
the chalk around victims, vessels buzzing
from the force of their departure. We could be those rockets
that shed most of themselves as the pieces burn fuel,
become weight. What remains to sizzle into the vast? Mrs. Cullen
drove us home from school, cutting a conversation short when
the newscaster said the space shuttle exploded somewhere in the ghost
ocean of the sky. Bring out your dead, give a nice picture
to the journalist. In the space industry, "go fever" refers to rushing
to get a task done while overlooking potential mistakes.
The other kids and I in the car. I told my ma later
I could remember seeing it explode in the sky, but she said
it must have been my memory fooling me. My family in the year I was born
is a mystery I will never solve, like the kid we called “Bruiser”
having a seizure at school, the way we pretended
it was more interesting than scary. All I saw was a parked ambulance,
them wheeling him on a gurney. I kept seeing that moment
in my mind the rest of the day. Moments change, but some linger.
I see them as badges of my moving. There is a reason
to be afraid of silence, a lawnmower that quits
and might never start again. There is reason to adore
it, the feeling after you’ve jumped in the pile of leaves
and you wish you could stay, pretending you don’t hear
your father’s foghorn voice or the overweight youth pastor,
who cried when she told us Jesus died for her. She led sing-a-longs
and said we were all beautiful. Enough of these drops
can make an ocean, too deep to see bottom,
the ecstasy and dread of not knowing. Sing for the bottom
you cannot imagine, the grass that lay in the shade.
Sing for the kids who cannot outlast
their parents. Praise shipwrecks like trinkets beaded
around death’s slender neck. Praise the floaters on your fishing line
showing the unseen deep. My father kept his sorrow
wrapped in a monogrammed handkerchief in his left back pocket.
He sighed and shook his head if you asked to see. Home
is a dance you learn over time, a hillside in the path
of a ceaseless fire burning forty miles away. Disasters
breed miracles, water pulling back to lay bare the seaweed and shells.
Swimming is a dialogue with vastness you learn
over time. The plastic landmass of our waste curdles cold Pacific water.
Most magic is done with mirrors because they create whole things
from pieces: that moment when you reached out as a child
to touch your reflection, wondering what it would feel like.
A mirror is sand burned so badly
it can never go back. This morning
I saw trucks driving into the protestors
bit by bit, the people rushing to put their cold hands
between the iron slats onto the wide-eyed pigs,
one woman sobbing, calling them babies. The slaughterhouse
security guard yelled THIS IS NOT A PLACE FOR PEOPLE.
Near my house, a church board says: “Earth is a pit stop
on the way to Heaven”. I think of the back of every billboard
and mirror; the back of my wife’s slender neck quickening
as we make love and forget the dark half of the moon
is a conglomerate of damage, that leaves aren’t a nuisance
when they’re still tethered to the tree.
Spoon River Poetry Review: "The Kids of Walpole"
THE KIDS OF WALPOLE
From the edge of the woods the highway cars
would sound like waves, intervals too rushed and regular
to be natural. The daylight would hang like an old drape
in a strange bedroom. From there we could smell the pine fence
the German Shepherd barked through,
the one I dared myself to hop and make it back over.
I think I’m still there, clocking the possibilities,
listening. We’d hear other young voices
arcing over houses in the circle, alongside magpies
protecting their territory. In the summer, days grew still
as a lizard on a sun-baked rock. Imagine the strangeness
of our families secreted away, the locked doors
at grownup parties, the magazines of naked women
we knew were in the Thomas’ downstairs bathroom.
Walking down the street, our eyes drifted to the blue door
where a kind old lady everyone called Chicky
would poke her head out in winter, offering cocoa and toys.
Sometimes we went behind the Cullen’s, past the swamp,
to a fence with a hole we would stare in, wondering
if the family we spied on was normal –
another way of asking if we were.
We’d see the cold sun peek out as we walked
the mile to the bus stop in winter, hovering shameless
as the man who made breakfast naked by the window
every morning. Huge pine trees loomed, messages
we had no primer for. While we waited on the corner,
we could look at the industrial park where we’d sled down
steep ravines called Suicide Hill and fly off snow ramps,
sliding under rows of parked tractor trailers.
Picture us awake in our beds, shining our close calls like medals.
Flights: "Janus Nocturne" and "Ghost Fever"
this night my funeral
shroud, last chance;
a ghost ocean, god’s
heart; this night her
bated breath, pursed
lips, razorblade smile;
the last beer, final hit;
a snoozed alarm; this
night her thighs on my
shoulders writhing; a hot
plate; revenge served
immediately; a knife
in the teeth of god moving
over the face
of the waters; the long
in Chicago that connects
the Red and Blue lines at
very late at night
you can only think
which end is closest
and how fast you could
make it if you had to;
this night the thunder
of my dad racing
downstairs for me
because I took too long
to find the right
tool; that sun gone dark
in the hole of a gun
pointed at your face;
the resolve in my mind
as I planned that crime
that would have put
all of us away
for a thousand nights;
this night the devil’s
orgasm, the secret
knowledge, the humming
skin of the world;
this night the frog
I squeezed too hard
as a child to see
what would happen;
this night my
The way I watched bugs
or soil or the imperfections
in a wall. How my eyes went
from hazel to a cow’s brown,
my hair blond and curly
to straight and dark; my dad’s
anger when he saw me
lost inside my head.
The way my ma went off
to sell pharmaceuticals
all over Boston and I would
go with her when I was sick;
the babysitter and I
watching a ghost movie
and just before the climax
my ma came back
and drove the girl home.
The way that sometimes, if you’re
not back fast enough, you
only see the credits roll.
How my dad went
from flashed teeth and guitar
to an endless grimace, my
ma from cigarettes
to perfect manhattans
while her hair went from
a poof of exploding still-life
to crimped and mousy.
How the car that hit
the dog before I was born
came back in his joints
until he couldn’t sit or lay down.
The way an obese girl
with curly blonde hair
and a wad of bills asked
if I would have sex with her
for a hundred and twenty dollars.
How that girl told me
of the house in her head
with a green door
no one opens.
The way we all have
a green door in our heads
no one opens.
Ghost Town Literary Magazine: "The Girl Who Drowned in Dover Pond", "Threading"
Iron Horse Literary Review: "UFO Fever"
It would be simpler if aliens
vibrated the skies over Boston,
if there really were
compartments devoted to me.
If I was an integer
that made their megabrains
gyrate, their ship
could hang above
the empires of corn. If they
glyphs into our crops,
if compasses lost direction,
I would know they were
answering the request
I trampled into snow: Please
land here. I could
feel the stardust inventing
my arms and legs,
so much empty space
become a body
I almost forgot
was out there in the dark.
Another Chicago Magazine [forthcoming]: "The Other Me", "Collateral Damage"
THE OTHER ME
is off walking shelter dogs
like I thought of doing
before my mind spun
in the centrifuge
and I spent hours
listening to shock jock
radio, grimacing. My other
is out there, his smile
relentless like Sam Cooke
Live in Harlem while I sit here,
trying to sharpen something
that will never dull.
He is doing something honest
and his eyes never
tremble. Last night
in the store I heard
the clerks gossip about
the customer who comes
in each day and never
Deformed ribcage, calcified
ridge where bone once
sprung in a spasm.
The ache when I sleep
on it wrong, a pretty
girl flirting with
a piece of kale
stuck in her teeth.
My rib before the boxing
match that cracked it, cold
in the shadow of the future.
A friend who would die
a day after asking me
to spare a beer. My shrug:
Sorry man, we just
don’t have enough.
See Spot Run, "Bones", "How to Remove Unwanted Growths"
Natural Bridge, "Remember Jacob Wetterling"
I wrote this about a boy who was abducted from Minnesota at gunpoint decades ago. There was a tradition in the town he was from that they all left the porchlights going all night on the anniversary of the date he was abducted. As this poem went to publication, his body was found after being missing for over twenty years.
REMEMBER JACOB WETTERLING
They leave their porch lights on
tonight to mark the erasure
of a young boy taken at gunpoint
26 years ago. Light is the dark
falling to its knees for the kids
swallowed by winter nights.
Our bare bulb porch light
the moths keep getting
burned by, the failed journeys
of insects that tried to find
warmth in the miracle, badly
burned and fluttering
in gravity’s undertow.
Leave a glow for the eyes
that don’t shine anymore;
a tire losing its treads,
leaving them every place
it briefly touched.
A tire spinning back on itself
even as it touches the world
from one horizon to the next.
DMQ Review, "Bukowski:"
“Almost everyone is born a genius and buried an idiot.”
You can’t find me now. You’ll just bother
the guy in his teal house on Longwood Ave
near the 10 freeway
who wishes the kid who
used to get his ass kicked in that old bathroom
didn’t get so damned famous.
That wasn’t home anyway, I was always
at the LA Central library, losing myself
in torrents of words penned by men who had articulated
the unlit halls of my future.
If I was still around, it would be in the red/blue lights
scrimshawing shadows among the broken glass
spread over the Santa Monica Freeway at night like confetti at a wedding,
the great wide glittering miracle of us.
I’d be in the screeching engine rubbing itself raw,
the threadbare carpets in Hollywood apartments,
the spider rebuilding the web the teenagers keep burning.
I wouldn’t be in the grace said before meals, in morning papers or ball games.
I went back to the Longwood house once as an old man and wrote
about the beatings, sitting in the same bathroom
where the world lifted its mask.
I haven’t returned there since, but I’m sure the paint still peels,
the grout’s still perforated like my skin, and that door still won’t close tight.
The smeared windows are my eyes, dulled with time
and defined by the way the light frames the broken glass
to throw streaks of brilliance across the walls.
Todd Follett - email@example.com
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