Justin Karcher: The Opioid Zodiac
Photo: Joanna C. Valente

Photo: Joanna C. Valente

The Opioid Zodiac





washed into the ocean

make crabs more aggressive

more daring

they take more risks

they become

successful cloud rappers

they wear Adidas tracksuits

they die young





Every city I’ve been to has

an overabundance of

lion statues

some stand guard

in front of apartment buildings

where the addicts inside are

bashing their hands bloody

against a god

who looks like a cactus

all those needles


courage is everywhere





A bad harvest year


streetlights suffering

from mild seizures

day or night doesn’t matter


carry elephant bones

in the bags

under our eyes


talk a lot about memory

farmers’ markets

that are really cemeteries

Persephone sitting alone

under a tree

dripping with maggots


she’s singing “Heart of Gold”

no life here

but hang in there





Every night

the golden birdman

parks his Egyptian food truck

down by the twitchy river

but it’s not really

a food truck


an illusion

he’s selling


the afterlife


a scale

to measure our hearts


we wait in line

sink like stones

wake up in nests





25 songs on Drake’s album


released June 2018


so far this year

freelance writers

making shit money

have inked

25 obituaries

for friends of mine


someone drowns in a tub

nearly every day in America

sometimes they confuse

dangerous scorpions

for bars of soap


the struggle to

get clean







wash wild horses

out to sea


but the lead stallion

always keeps

most of his harem together

on higher ground


they put their butts

into the wind

ride it out

watch their friends die



Lady Gaga is riding

the ghost of a horse

she loved very much





The stranger is wearing

my dead friend’s headphones

he declares, “Eminem is the best

the greatest of all time”


everybody hates everybody

but the party’s still going on

we pluck stars from the sky

they explode in our hands


they’re not really stars

just grenades wrapped in glow tape

now our hands are gone

we try smoking, but can’t hold the cigarettes


so we drop to our knees

dig in the dirt

search for the right words to say





Summer left a long time ago


now homeless kids

fill up buckets with snow


they use blowtorches

to melt the snow


they fill up water guns

with the blood of winter


they run through the city

spraying summer on depressed adults


oh beautiful youth

never turn into cupbearers

for drunk birds


oh beautiful youth

always be in control

always dream of better things





The father of all monsters

rises from the heartland

spits out poisonous goldfish

in all directions


eyeless mothers

catch the carnival fish

with butterfly nets

now they have new eyes


plugging the holes

in leaky pipes

with the abuse

they’ve been given


blessed are those

who see the world

for what it is

but still love




even when their eyes

go bad

even when their dreams

float to the surface





High school teacher

tired of all the funerals

climbs a ladder

to the top of the clouds

grabs some icicles

hanging from God’s gutters


back on earth

she puts the icicles

between her fingers

now she looks like Wolverine

the animal in us all

she’s ready for war


she goes to the club

where pharmaceutical reps

drink the tears of a nation

she tries to stab them

but her claws start to melt

they fall off


a heart too big for this world

but the music keeps playing





Coming from a small town

you don’t have a lot of opportunities


born into it

thrown from bulls, stomped on


prayers weighing 2,000 pounds

your chest collapsing if they land on you


sometimes you think, I don’t know

what blood looks like anymore


so you throw a bottle of red wine

through a stained glass window


everyone loves glass on glass

everyone loves scar on scar


good people devoured by nothingness

a color wheel of plasma just rolling along





They say

identical twins

feel each other’s pain

can read

each other’s mind


I imagine a world

where supernatural empathy

turns us all

into identical twins



from the same plate of shit

every one of us

having the same stomach

every one of us

having the same ache

Justin Karcher is a Pushcart-nominated poet and playwright born and raised in Buffalo, New York. He is the author of several books of poetry, including Tailgating at the Gates of Hell (Ghost City Press, 2015). He is also the editor of Ghost City Review and co-editor of the anthology My Next Heart: New Buffalo Poetry (BlazeVOX [books], 2017). He tweets @Justin_Karcher.