Never Have I Never Have I
Death is the only adventure where I live.
– Dustin Hoffman (Captain Hook)
Story of a boy’s peach kite. Story of the butterfly
knife divorcing his hand from its thin tether.
Story like every other, beginning with a toaster,
ending in a clawfoot tub – wet lightning. Memphis
nude as ever. Rice fields up to their throats in holy
water. We know the one about the jaguar tooth
necklace and the broken spear. The slow salvation
of amphetamines and the wooden steps to Harlem.
You are a dot in the wild eye of a poppy. You can
mean everything but only once. In some stories
we hear voices begging for the story to end.
For the quick spit of a trigger. How our bodies
are sorted by orifices. How election stories are
rigged for this. In the back alley I watch a kid
dressed as batman roll a cigarette. Old women
on a wraparound porch burn holes in their playing
cards. One for every scar on their shoulders, one
more because now it feels good. We pine for
the story in which the dream never ends,
where we finally learn to fly without making love
to the telephone line. The newspaper describes
the city bus on its side in Augusta, its only living
passenger still drunk behind the wheel, hacking up
dragons. Mothers keep giving birth and their children
keep going first. In the future I will buy a house
with a lawn the size of Kansas. I’ll build an ark
big enough to drown in. The new weather pattern:
send out exquisite falcons until we all disappear.
Edict with Burnt Mattress
I’ve been drinking saline again. My eyes are laughing
dolphins. Some nights undress themselves like Amsterdam.
Some nights there’s only an empty cauldron left for us
to witch over. Here kitty kitty, here dead rabbit. I am this close
to creating a name for the moment the lozenge sleeps
in the throat. What are we to do with the wooden spoon of time
in which your lover stops loving you but never tells you?
Hallelujah. Fall backwards. This abandoned hotel hosts miniature hotels
and I am walking on my elbows. Call it a disappearing
act. There is cold hard cash in the way a knuckle spits blood, becomes
one with wallpaper. When I’m done you’ll know. Pretend
to smile. Some bodies are a pincushion for failed desire. As I draw
an outline of your face on the mirror I understand how you could float
without drowning. Maybe the Dutch word for excellent, keep going
was in my hands the whole time. Maybe it felt like red fur.
There are years we lose to people
we didn’t realize we never loved. I want to write down each
of my memories and inflate balloons
around them, send them off to god. My dead uncle in #2
pencil, wrapped in alligator latex,
floating like a planet into black dust. If you were to make me
describe the time my father took thumbtacks
from the refrigerator and glued them to the wooden paddle,
I’d want the balloon to be the shade
of a whale’s eye or the white fist of a fire, something worth
putting your lips on until near explosion.
Or the time the soccer coach had us all over for a slumber party
and what happened in the Vegas
of his desires left scars on the insides of our mouths. Let that
balloon be 24 karat gold, something pure
as a whistle, something like a dryer sheet you inhale over & over
until the idea of clean becomes more
than clean. Water balloons for the friends I keep promising
to call back. Grenades with chocolates
inside them for all my ex-lovers. I want balloons to rise
in the night like exotic jellyfish, to be bright
as a child entering this world, still flawless, covered in blood.
This is the future of the future of growing
old: a coal train splitting out the stomach
of a planet. I am painting a horizon
with my fingernails. I am the size of evening,
crumpled purple, the nowhere if nowhere
is bright. Maybe heaven is on a map
we don’t have. Small X in the corner. Because I am
out of ideas. Because you could live a thousand
years, each mattering less and less like the children
piling up at our feet. This is a butcher’s parade,
a flower in the mouth of a rabid dog
dissolving into a revolver aimed at your heart.
I once sent a baseball through a car window. Imagine
the glass-blood hand of the man who picked it up,
his boyhood grin, his thirsty grip. If the stars
are sleeping wolves, rattle your bell. Open an eye.
Days disappear down the hallway
of a magician’s black hat. We crawl out
of one womb simply to enter the closing fist
of another. There are poppies in Belgium
whose only task is to be as red as the holy
skull of the sun, then die. Give me loud rain.
Give me a number longer than my name.
The imagination has become a thirty second
download, a graphic on the plastic jacket
of a game that never ends. Wake up, kid,
you’re it. The tree that doesn’t turn into a fort
leads to divorce. The girl whose moonlit hair
without anyone there to smoke rings through it
is the reason our language tastes like rot.
When the rivers on the seer’s face host volcanoes
for eyes, get up and run. This was always about you.
Philip Schaefer’s debut collection of poems Bad Summon (University of Utah Press, 2017) won the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize, and he’s the author of three chapbooks, two co-written with friend and poet Jeff Whitney. He won the 2016 Meridian Editor’s Prize in poetry and has work out or due out in Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Thrush Poetry Journal, Guernica, The Cincinnati Review, Salt Hill, Bat City Review, The Adroit Journal, Baltimore Review, diode, and Passages North among others. He tends bar in Missoula, MT.
Judge Alex Lemon writes of Schaefer’s “Five Poems”: There’s so much to love in this submission of wonderfully pitched poems: among them, the twinning of assertion and the sadly-strange in the superb “Salvation Party,” and the ecstatic suckerpunch of their closing lines, like “to be bright / as a child entering this world, still flawless and covered in blood” or “get up and run. This was always about you.” These poems risk and hazard and play, unfolding and/or wormholing their poetic worlds, deftly accreting emotion-packed images. These are dazzling poems.
For more information on Grist‘s ProForma contest and how to submit, here’s our contest page.