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.
EVERYTHING BROKEN IS BEAUTIFUL, YOU IDIOTS!
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. (jacksonburgess.com)