Page 1

claws of a hawk

the architecture of joy and sorrow

poems by john sweet photographs by rebecca etter

all photographs © 2010 rebecca etter all poetry © 2010 john sweet

prisoners you and i like wounded twins staggering through condemned buildings, like traitors to some illdefined cause the war was a given, and there was nothing to do but be FOR or AGAINST it these were the palace years, of course, before the bombs and the rubble reached our doorstep, before the orphans, before the carrion birds and starving dogs it was easy to picture safe passage across the river just by stepping on the corpses it was easy to imagine you naked and tied to the bed and i was tired of my grandfather’s suicide and i was tired of my father’s drunken paranoia and it was always either late january or early august there was always some sad useless martyr willing to die for my sins and i stood there watching my children sleep, sat there listening to the sirens on the other side of town thought about who i’d failed the most in this most recent lifetime wondered if they’d noticed pictured you and i drowning together on opposite sides of some unfinished map but had no idea what it was that had pushed us that far apart never stopped to think you might choose a happier ending for yourself this is how fucking blind i was

keeping score small hope like sunlight on shimmering treetops, like a sky the color of luminous dust take the silence you’ve been given hold it close to your heart the children are tired of despair, are tired of starvation, of revolution, and so what are you going to do? how far are you willing to crawl in a desert of your own creation? if i were a liar, i would tell you there can be no wrong answers if i were honest, i would turn away do you remember the life you had before? do you remember the ocean? i am a believer in easy escapes, in walking away from pain and sorrow i take comfort in the gentle haze of distance i find despair around every corner open your eyes, for christ’s sake

genetic. it’s the way I’m wired.

what you love will be stolen haze of distance confused w/ clarity thought about that for a while in the late afternoon heat no sound but the sound of hawks riding the ghosts of currents no motion but the motion of silent flight around the sun you and i earthbound

the dark years heard later that she’d fallen into the fire heard later that her children had gone missing that her husband was drunk, was stoned, was passed out on the bathroom floor, and it was the holiday weekend, was 80 degrees and sunny and the baby wouldn’t stop crying the stench of garbage was overwhelming buzz of flies everywhere

kneel here, search there, with both hands

a sudden silence nothing but sunlight & blue sky out here trailers on the hills, garbage fires, shadows of clouds, of minor gods slow collapse girl is burned beyond recognition, but she lives all roads lead to empty houses bend your body into the shape of a cross and call yourself religion and it will all begin to make sense your children will still grow up disappointed, yes, but this isn’t necessarily your fault spend a year away from your tv, your radio, your computer and cell phone, and see what you become read nothing but what you yourself have written wake up, then, on that first day of your new life and find out what you’ve missed are babies still starving in every corner of the world? are they being beaten and strangled and raped? is there a war being fought somewhere that no one asked for and that no one supports?

to believe in democracy is to believe in the need for an enemy to believe in victory is to acknowledge a love of violence, and the easy thing is for each of us to wish for the deaths of those who think differently, and so this is what we do the easy thing is to build temples and cathedrals of rotting flesh and broken bones dig for the ghosts of indians wait for the ocean’s return

this is my music

blind enigma or not the silence of addiction but the bliss of denial live in a house with windows but no doors dream of needles and teenage pussy dream of being awake of being alive walk from room to room, from mirror to mirror, screams of birds, of starlings and crows and their shadows all smeared across the walls like soot vines growing in the dark there is a point to making promises, you see, and there is the ecstasy that comes from breaking them i know this from my first marriage i believe in escape close your eyes and up through the roof, like smoke, like memory, and then where? weeds in every direction, and wildflowers, and the ghosts of slaughtered indians how the fuck can you not believe in progress? didn’t it cure your father’s cancer?

didn’t stop his drinking, okay, and no one saw the suicide coming, but still these things happen and what about his girlfriend? three days later knocking at the door of your crappy little apartment, said she needed money, gave you a blowjob but left empty handed never heard from her again, but this shit happens christ gets nailed to his cross every time builds you a house with windows but no doors, and you sit there wishing there was something on tv you sit there wishing it was warmer or not so hot, wishing here was sunlight or maybe rain the truth of things escapes you we have always been the same in this respect

delusional woman coaxed off overpass

cried princess and she let the children dive for pearls there on the edge of the desert with polished floors and crumbling walls and there were songs in her hands that should have meant something there were words left unspoken asked me to choose a god to call my own but my eyes were empty, no apologies, no begging for forgiveness warm breath on the back of my neck weeks spent waiting for rain and then months and then years and always a sky of pristine blue had no choice but to call each other home



postcard for the woman i love and you clothed in sunlight and all of the miles of wire between us all of the children crying they want to sing, but their tongues have been cut out want to fly, but they have no wings have nowhere to go even if they did

dearly decapitated

like metal towers under darkening skies and no and no again, not poetry and not confession, and i understand that CATHARSIS is a word that keeps falling from my numb lips on these relentless august afternoons, but even that has begun to feel like a mistake the girl is there on her hands and knees, is chained to a tree at the edge of the picture, at the edge of a field or a forest, and what she thinks doesn’t matter who she is isn’t important i have learned this from priests and i have learned it from politicians and when the baby is found there are pieces missing there are teethmarks a world filled with people who consider themselves to be human

of no consequence

mixed remains

Gehenna And jesus, the sound of bones beneath tires out in the street, and then the laughter of children. Not a war but a massacre. Not a river but an ocean. A wall of heat, and I couldn’t breathe with the wind in my face. Couldn’t bleed without flies swarming my wounds. Kept mistaking all of the pain we caused each other for love.

The necessity of hope de Chirico’s poem in the heat of August, all ominous shadows and empty spaces, all sirens fading into the ambiguous distance. Man has a gun and he shoots his brother and his brother has a gun, too. Has too much sunlight in his eyes. Too much river in his lungs. Turns to the mother, but the mother is falling. Three stories on a Saturday afternoon, beer in one hand and the baby asleep. The tub overflowing. Radio up loud enough to make all of the screams sound like laughter.


the obvious road fuckers with their sickness, with their cures, and everything with a price in a civilized world, all of the mad dogs shot & studied, all of then old men with their amputations, their faces contorted by fear, their belief in the failure of art all stories on this day are war stories all victims remain nameless you survive the bomb only to give birth to deformed children you take pleasure in the fact that slavery will always exist and you are loved, of course, and you are hated, just like all of us and if the pills don’t work there are always others if the depression persists, there’s always suicide just because you can’t find the humor in all of this pain doesn’t mean it isn’t there


hold that thought

still life with fresh wounds here in the season of turning away i will give you only silence and hunger here at the moment of denial i will eat only dust heavy drapes over dirty windows a young girl with her father’s death mask, with his wristwatch, his pocketknife, his lover’s name tattooed up the inside of her arm clocks without faces in cluttered rooms sagging dressers, broken chairs, mirrors turned toward cracked and peeling walls a house between the river and the interstate a trailer just beyond the cemetery give the man there twenty bucks to fuck his girlfriend, or just wait until he leaves dig for arrowheads in the frozen soil push your hands through the forgiving flesh of kahlo’s ghost eat whatever you pull out and consider it my gift to you

lover afraid of the distance between us and then afraid to close it story of my life a tired punchline to laugh about while the money bleeds itself dry a song pieced together from christ’s most bitter lies just sat there eating his flesh and begging him to tell us more

of what once was

the obscene and then you and i crawling through the filth of each other for the sheer joy of it and then you and i falling and then you and i can only fuck like angels for so long

he chose flowers for their neatness & symmetry. i did not.

Song of the bleeding horse Found you casting pale blue shadows, running down hallways, and you said the baby had drowned. You showed me your hands. Left the car on the edge of the interstate when the radiator hose blew. And we were 5000 miles from home and I found you sitting in a plain white room, in a stranger’s house, and you told me about the first time your mother’s boyfriend raped you, and then you told me about all of the times after. Said you needed money to go see your father, but your father was dead. Said the pills didn’t make you feel any different. You still hated me no matter how many you took.

side stepping

coalescence and all dreams are dreams of california and all gods are false one idea leads naturally to the other early afternoon end of july and the smell of gasoline and the weight of the sun low drone of bees make it a poem about fucking and you’re a genius make it a poem about murdered children and you’re a monster follow the powerlines from pole to pole, from house to house measure all distances with loss you fall in love easily and then you’re stuck five years or, ten, twenty, and all paths lead back to that same moment all mistakes are repeated bees in the back yard and the buzz of cicadas the sky, more or less luminous bronze wrapped around a white sun and the weeds in the garden and the weeds in the lawn and the small zephyrs of dust that move through vacant lots listen

i am not here to tell you we matter and i am not here to offer forgiveness i am not here to ask for it my children are an obvious victory my failures cast shadows think of de chirico before he was swallowed by religion and then think of tanguy take pity on gorky’s wife and daughters take comfort in the fact that our mistakes will be forgotten twenty years after the sweetness of your kiss, and the possibility of bliss is still the drug that keeps me going


the poet writes a poem for his muse arrived there in the sunlight, found the saints with their eyes gouged out, found prophets fucking the daughters of priests and i knew that all i wanted was to be man ray knew that all i wanted was to wrap you naked in warm waves of black & white kiss yr eyes until you wept only tears of joy

10.10 // 4:15am

luxury like jesus christ drunk at midnight in a burning house like rivers filled with the corpses of butchered children the stench of it the inevitability walk for fifty years in any direction, and there you are

into a kneeling position

moment of despair and why would he write a poem about his father’s suicide, and why would he stop the house from falling down around him? why would he bother telling the woman he loves that he loves her? why the fuck would he ever kiss his children good night? all of that wasted time spent just trying to be human

bury me here

dogma motherfucker or justice or, better yet, power you either turn toward or away you stick pins into the flesh and when will we move beyond this simple magic and into darker labyrinths of wealth and sex? it was one of in this room, tied to the bed, and it was the other one causing pain it was a child shot dead in some garbage-strewn street in the name of some garbage-strewn cause just make your saviors in the image of your enemies and they will be easier to kill


pause weed in the gardens, in the flowerbeds, and it’s true that not all life is sacred it’s true that all politicians are whores, and so who would you fuck, given the choice? whose doorstep would you lie down and bleed to death on? pretend your answer is a gift pretend the past can be changed not everyone’s of course, just yours, because this is what it means to be human this is the town and these are the towers on the hills with their faint hope and their pale shadows, with the faded sky and the tired sunlight the low hum of electricity the distance you can only be here, you see, or you can only be there we will only drown after all hope has been forsaken truth is not the gift you were hoping for

grey secondary air

ghost and the girls aren’t dead and the boys aren’t sleeping and there is always time for sorrow there is always the smothering weight of regret close your eyes and breathe in, but you can never get enough air

after the age of giants And this is not nothing, this sky, these clouds, these hills, and it’s not the whole story because nothing ever is, but listen. Distance is an important thing. Forty feet from the bridge to the tracks below. 100 miles between the woman’s body and her husband’s faith. And have you ever tried defining yourself by something other than sorrow or fear? Will you crawl from lover to lover with nothing to offer but fading bruises and the promise of more? It’s okay to pause before you answer, to consider, to weight your options. It’s okay to accept the fact that we’ve never really meant anything to each other. This is why the sunlight casts shadows. Why time only moves in one direction. The moment arrives one hundred million times a day, and then it passes. The song is forgotten. I wanted to sing it to you, but you were married. You were crying. It was a sound just like any other.


your future is a prison but i love you anyway here where land comes up hard against other land, where the sky is ignored where all wounds bleed white light where all of us are wounded walk across empty parking lots, across the rubble of demolished buildings, across freeways, across the river and where you end up will always be where you began weeds devour the garden and the sun is relentless the children laugh no matter how many times you punish them the minister’s wife is never found it’s been a long time since i said i was sorry and really meant it

penalty and escape, both

nothing now but empty air

these little wounds like party favors and then twilight skies and neon signs and then down to rooftops down to darkened rooms and the pale silhouettes of ghosts and i have been tasting your pain for so long now my mouth feels bruised i have dreamt my son’s death once and then twice after this there can only be winter

birds on a wire

The architecture of joy and sorrow  

Poetry by John Sweet, photographs by Rebecca Etter