I am tired of wearing everyone else’s darkness
like a conch shell with no ocean inside. Their names
rattle through my head at night like jarred fire
flies. So I claw through myself to escape. I break everything
I cannot ignite: the plastic trumpet, the book of love,
every shadow on the wall with a knife its teeth.
The woman at the store counter counting coins – her
darkness is mine. The freckled twins picking wings
off the horse fly because even at our youngest
we are too fascinated with the hairline fracture
between life and death to not use our hands – their
darkness is mine. Jeff, what have you left to offer
me? If I hand you a gold plate, what kind of cuisine
can I spit on. If you tell me your most tortured secret,
here, right now, would you be able to trust how high
I toss it? What if it never landed. What if like good
deeds it vanished forever. I’m holding a rope
with my neck. Jeff, here’s the stool, its cracked leg.
In every blown out river I see Oregon, in every Oregon
another farm up to its neck in cloud water. It’s that time
of year when the girl on the picnic blanket has been waiting
her whole life. When the dog’s one good eye turns black
hole. When I kick the telephone line with my steel toe
I understand how old men’s back are made of gunmetal
and thunder. Their hair late harvest, their money
no good anymore. So they live in the rocking chair
their grandfathers built, who are now nothing but fertilizer
for another unvisited cemetery. I’m thinking this time
I’ll pack up forever. Maybe what I’m trying to say is God
left me, not the other way around. My parents nightly kneel
with my name on their lips, dove hands in the hope
that I won’t become my brother. Though who doesn’t
eventually turn into the other version of themselves.
Today represents the birthday of all your greatest
failures. I’ve made you a cake with my initials on it.
Don’t feel bad, old friend. When I nudge you to swim
what I mean is there is a galaxy between plank and shore.
Philip Schaefer’s first collection of poems Bad Summon won the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize from the University of Utah Press and will be released Summer 2017. He is the author of three chapbooks, two of which were 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, and Passages North among others. He tends bar in Missoula, MT.