TWO POEMS by Jackson Burgess


felt more like a stage dive

at karaoke night onto empty floor

than falling into a pile of arms like

I'd hoped. They leveled the old theater

and smoke shop, let our old meadow

grow wild. I'm yelling timber at my heart

beneath flickering neon when I see

your 60-year-old doppelganger pass.

There is no other way to say it:

I'm not the man I made myself out to be.

Most nights devolve into 80-proof

ballads and me boring strangers with

tales of your brow, your gait,

the slant of your tongue on mine.

When I enter the room, I don't

brighten corners, I scatter

bone shards with which I garnish

these lines you wish I wouldn't write.

There is no other way to say this:

I will love you even when

I tell you I don't. I don't believe

memory and objectivity can

share a bed, I've already thrown

the dice too slack-hand, now you and I

will never be going home again.



I came back to Los Angeles

with a pocket full of photos and a pocket full of glass,

eyes brimming with ginger ale I'd hoped would mix well

with whatever they were drinking these days,

but I was not prepared for these tabletops

and pocketknife lines, the hell they hock up

when 6am is time for another bump. And that's all

to say nothing of the sledgehammers, the crowbars

and tall cranes, grave robbers ripping through

our old smoke spot, the Denny's where Rockwell

puked in the sink, the field where Lily and I

discovered our monopoly on sunlight—

now the hedges are trimmed below eye height,

the windows overlook pristine cement, and all my friends

left for Echo Park to try and be somebody.

I don't want to be somebody. I know I am only as tall

and strong as a cornstalk, which is fine by me

as long as I end up a part of a row. But I'm still stuck

on the bitter throat drip and rolled up bills, Youssef's sad look

when he called us walking clichés, and that stench clinging

to my jeans even now, three days after that skunk

sent me and Skyler pounding dirt, the fists put through walls,

my achy jaw, our laughter, naked outside Dodger Stadium,

the chemical bath and dog hair, love notes composed in smoke

but forgotten come morning, and who will save us

from the great gray blank? Who's going to re-set

the bones in our arms, dust us off, put us down in beds

that aren't chainlinked or hooked to IVs

in the hospital I swore I'd never see again?

For the moment everyone's heart's still going and the sky

hasn't become a pair of arms, but I'm too scared

of ambulance lights to breathe—we're empty windowpanes,

gnarled up knuckle hugs, I've become everything

we once swore against, and all my friends

just keep slicing straws, they're going to be somebody

better than whoever they left back on 29th ,

they're going to trade any semblance of stability

for buckets of snow and salt, and here I am,

broke and out of breath, shambling after pleasure zealots

who have long since stopped looking back.


Jackson Burgess's debut full-length poetry collection, Atrophy, is forthcoming from Write Bloody Publishing. He is also the author of Pocket Full of Glass, winner of the Clockwise Chapbook Competition (Tebot Bach, 2017). He received his MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and lives in Los Angeles. (