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On Fire and Roses Poetry by

Alex Johnston


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©2018 Alex Johnston Cover design by Lauren Peone All rights reserved. No part of this book can be reproduced without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of written reviews. ISBN 978-0-9984580-7-6 First edition

PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733 www.lummoxpress.com

Printed in the United States of America

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Contents Foreword................................................................xv PrefaceI Tried to Kill a Bee..............................................1 Part 1- Boy Salt Pond in Maine...............................................5 Mammoth.............................................................6 Monsters and Mudpuddles....................................8 The Calendar........................................................9 Deer Season........................................................10 Duel Attraction...................................................12 Part 2- Wretched Bang....................................................................17 The October Horse.............................................18 The Hours After.................................................26 The New Generation...........................................27 Examining the Eggs...........................................29 Paradise Diner....................................................31 Exodus................................................................32 Part 3- Vampires The May Queen..................................................37 Daisy-Chained....................................................38 Where the Tomatoes Came From.......................40 Waltz #2..............................................................41 July.....................................................................42 Salvatore Dreams................................................43 Regicide..............................................................45 —vi—


Part 4- The Bee Hive Leviathan............................................................51 Wesley, on Lower Lake Rd.................................52 Cakewalking.......................................................53 Crated.................................................................55 Maria..................................................................56 Between Ramsey’s..............................................57 Kill the Billionaires............................................59 Uncle David........................................................61 Mrs. Smith..........................................................62 Down Like Dust.................................................65 Ambiguous Love................................................66 East Side Ice Cream............................................67 The Gardeners....................................................68 Stranger Fire. .......................................................... 69 The Autopsy Manifesto......................................70 Elysium...............................................................74 Epilogue–

Here Is How the First One Ends............................... 78

Acknowledgments.................................................81 About the Author...................................................83

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For Austin and Dad–– two men.


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“They feed they Lion and he comes.” —Phillip Levine—


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On Fire And Roses


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Foreword by the author: Winston Churchill once said, “My most brilliant achievement––” Just kidding, I’m not actually going to start with a quote–– gag. Let’s have a look at this tangle of thorns (Nabokov!) The title of the book, On Fire and Roses, has undergone several changes over time. Initially, the book was called, He Do the Police in Different Voices, a line from the Charles Dickens novel, Our Mutual Friend. The line was also used as the original title of T.S Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land. The poem in my book, The October Horse, was also originally titled He Do the Police in Different Voices, and is loosely modeled after Eliot’s poem. For example, each poem is separated into five parts, with part four being significantly shorter than the others. Both poems also use a number of different speakers, however, the voices in mine are all derived from the same person–– but I digress. The second title I tried, The Spaces Where We Don’t, was a line once used as the ending of The October Horse. Some themes occurring within the poems of the book, especially in Part four, might suggest a sense of significance drawn from otherwise insignificant encounters. Or rather, how the seemingly trivial experiences we have, can impact our lives in a way more meaningful than we initially thought. “The spaces where we don’t”, is meant to draw attention to the spaces in our lives where we don’t initially appreciate an event or encounter until later in life, if ever. Next was, From Red Until Pink. A title I still believe to be fitting for the book. The reader may notice the book omits any use of color other than red or pink, (This part is cheating, but here’s a spoiler:) if the title can be thought of as a metaphor for a healing wound, one might realize the overall theme of the book, one of personal evolution and growth. Red to represent the initial cut and blood, pink for the color of the scar that heals it. So we beat on (Fitzgerald!), through suffering and bliss, “from red until pink”, over and over to the grave. The title brings attention to this theme, that come whomever come who may (Ginsburg!) we will always heal. That suffering, although brutal, is also temporary. This title also pays homage to one of my favorite —xv—


Forward by the author (continued) living poets, Charles Simic, the 2007 Poet Laureate of the United States. It was inspired by the final lines of his poem, Paradise Motel. If you’re reading this forward it’s likely you’ve purchased my book, for which I thank you very much, however dear reader, I’m obliged to insist that you also purchase one of his (or two of mine, dealers choice). Finally, we arrive to the current, and (God willing) final title of the book, On Fire and Roses. I found this title more applicable when considering the aforementioned dominate theme of the book, and to perhaps add a touch of poetic flare to the title. Aside from the metaphors this title alludes to, it also is an homage, this time to T.S Eliot. The reader may recall the closing lines to his poem, Little Gidding. I’ve considered writing an annotated edition of the book, explaining all the references and allusions made, but I thought it better to try and sell a few copies of this version first. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here! * * * For me, writing poetry is like solving, and then creating a puzzle. I see or experience things I know I want to write about, we all do. Figuring a way to put those experiences on paper, so as to make them readable, is how one solves the puzzle. Avoiding straightforwardness and balancing on a knife edge, between enigmatic and readability, is how one creates the puzzle. I spent nearly three years revisiting, rewriting and re-getting pissed off at, The October Horse. I reference this poem so much because it is also almost entirely autobiographical (as is most of the book). I trudged through problems with addictions, like so many other 20 somethings, and I was maybe one or two bad decisions away from writing this book in prison (lucky me). The poem is so important to me because even when I was in the total animal soup of time (Ginsberg again!), I knew I wanted to write about that chapter of my life (I’m fully aware of how terrible a pun that was). The poem is now complete, I hope, and attempts to visualize my experiences with, and recovery from addiction. Truth be told, I wasn’t ever a very good drug addict, though I tried, I couldn’t ever really —xvi—


commit. As it turns out, it takes a lot of money and hard work–– but I digress. The book is separated into four parts. ‘Boy’, is a highlight reel of my life before the party years. My childhood, which was excellent, included three loving parents, two of which I was close with. For several very reasonable reasons, my biological father, David, remained out of the picture as I grew up. After high school, and into my adulthood, he and I gradually formed a very close relationship. He died unexpectedly in February of 2017. Sections of the poem Elysium have to do with him. The poem Mrs. Smith is about his mother, my grandmother, who really is talking the ear off poor old Jesus. If I were a gambling man (I am) I’d bet the farm he hasn’t gotten a word in edgewise since she showed up. My grandmother died of complications from a stroke and was largely unable to speak for the last two months or so of her life. I would consider this to be one of the great tragedies of human history. My father, Ted, met my mother in the early hours of the 1990’s, and adopted me right around the time David Bowie did that blonde androgynous thing with his hair. He and my bother Austin are to whom this book is dedicated too. As far as my mother goes, I’ll say this: My mother worked two jobs and earned a master’s degree while raising two degenerate boys on her own. She is not a feminist. Feminism is for weak women, strong women get shit done. But look at me carrying on like an old maid, next part! Part two, Wretched, discusses the period in my life where I dealt with addiction, and the early years of my struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The poems, The October Horse, The Hours After and Yesterday’s News are themed around my emersion into a world of poverty and addiction, and my eventual disassociation from that lifestyle. When I was 19, a doctor thought I showed signs of OCD, and at 22 I was diagnosed with it. Although the disorder still impacts almost every aspect of my daily life, it can be hard for a stranger or an acquaintance to notice any symptoms. The only stereotypical compulsions I have, which are more easily observable, are excessive —xvii—


Forward by the author (continued) handwashing and my aversion to things like doorknobs. Several poems in the book make references here and there to OCD, but part two’s, Examining the Eggs is primarily about my experience with it. As a result of OCD, I also developed a severe eating disorder, sometime in late 2011. Over the course of the next year, I lost around 115lbs (ballpark figure) due to bouts of extreme starvation, I would not recommend this as an ideal weight loss regiment–– results may vary. Let’s dish: I’ve since put a healthy amount of weight back on, and my OCD is not under control, but considerably more manageable. I’m not a victim. I’m a man with a few problems, like any other man. Depression was never really for me, I couldn’t commit to that either. So, every morning, I get up and fight a little more to solve these problems. If there is a setback, then we go once more unto the breech (Shakespeare!) and try again, easy peasy. * * * I have a propensity to write about women. I like women, sometimes they even like me back. Although the book contains poems about past (and present) relationships, romantically or otherwise, Part three deals with one relationship in particular. About half of the poems in this book were written during the time her and I were a couple, although she inspired only the ones in Part three. She moved away for school, and shortly thereafter, and for reasons one can accurately assume, our relationship rapidly disintegrated, resulting in our inevitable breakup. I’ll say this about our time together though: when it was good, it was very good and we were happy. After it was over however, I took a monstrous breath of fresh air, I think we were both tired. Alright, moving on–– (Get it!) Part four was a tough one to put together. The Bee Hive, was used for this part for symbolically obvious reasons. I was also able to play around more with structure in this section. For example, Down like Dust, Mrs. Smith, Ambiguous Love and Elysium all experiment with a more unconventional poetic form. The poem Deer Season, from Part one however, may do this the most. The reader will notice that as the —xviii—


word ‘falling’ breaks apart in the poem, the two lower case L’s attempt to simulate falling snow throughout the rest of the poem. (I was forced at gunpoint to include that bit about the snow in this forward… okay I made that part up, but it was strongly suggested!) * * * When I was a teenager I wrote bad poetry. (maybe I still do, can’t tell, I’ve something of a bias) I began writing what would eventually manifest into this book in January of 2015, after an ex-girlfriend, who shall remain nameless (thank you Maria) encouraged that I re-enroll into school. It was our mutual agreement that five years was a long enough lunch break between classes. It took 15 minutes of creative writing 101 for me to realize I wanted to take poetry seriously. Coincidently, I completed the final poem to be included in this collection, the night before I met Mr. Armstrong, of Lummox Press, in September of 2017 and submitted the final edit on Christmas Eve of that same year. The end result is the largely autobiographical collection of poems which follows this (incredibly articulate and last-minute) forward. Full disclosure: I’m something of a dingbat in person. I do hope however, that you’re able to find some truth in my work. Thank you for reading this and placing me on your bookshelf. I hope I’m between Lolita and Harry Potter, or American Psycho and Where the Wild Things Are or Sylvia Plath and––– but I digress. Anyway, here is how the first one begins— Yours, A

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On Fire And Roses


Preface

I tried to Kill a Bee I tried to kill a bee. Burned and crushed it with a heavy book. Drowned it in effervescent poison, where it steeped for hours and hours in a tea of household cleaners. Persist— Determined.

I am like the bee— Undead.

1


Boy


Salt Pond in Maine What was the word she used— shambles. No, wreckage. The wreckage of that beaten ship was licked by the savage tongue of the ocean twice a day, and my mother made us watch. The starfish were hidden— not hidden— The starfish were kept a secret, and to touch them was forbidden. Until my brother’s tiny hand poked one in the center of the mouth–– always testing the water.

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Mammoth I saw an old ship that would never leave its harbor again. In the undertow waited immortal lobsters, in nets to carry them to everyone who ordered fresh, fresh to receive new meat, sweet from the sea belly. In Maine, where sea captains still grow weathered beards, they howl in the wind, ––lost in the eastern night. Newborn fathers on their knees, some with tears mixed with spray from shore rocks–– heads down low and swaying. They rise like giants, and turn to face the gate of trees, prepared to search for strength, deep into the forest and return as their fathers were, wearing bear claws and pine sap. As does the captain, in secret, who whisper chants before he sleeps. He’s been seen by few, rocking with his smoke in an arm chair, scouting for sea monsters he swears to children he saw.

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I watched you all, as a small boy, turn your heads to the sea. Cold, dark behemoth and blind.

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Monsters and Mud Puddles My sisters kicked up mud as they trudged through the corn. Rain from the morning left new puddles steaming between the stalks. The younger one jumped twice, her new boots spattered, flicked mud water up her legs. Altogether we made weapons out of sticks. After the fields are the woods, they crackle–– there are monsters asleep in the trees.

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The Calendar It was all there: I explored and climbed through gravel and roots in embedded cars, earth cars, stratified nowhere buildings who hum inside of nowhere bricks, red out there in cords of autumn sticks. They house potato bug tape worm ancestry shoe rocks metal rain. Everything his, into the smoke of my father’s machine shop. I shuffled past with fistfuls of hot venison, with fur clumps by the wood stove. Inside, this: rubber mallets on hooks, grease hands with charred faces like coal movies. There was more meat in tin foil, more meat than tin foil. It came from the woods on a day like today when char face and rubber mallet went to hunt, in boots up to my eyeballs–– and a calendar of naked girls, the first ones I’d seen, hiding like me in the back of the building. I who like the day was short, flipped through the months, for months. The thighs of June, the confederate blossom of May, And April— affective, who sees me from behind the wheel of her red Camaro. Both of us grinning, both of us hiding from our fathers.

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Deer Season “–– live branches don’t burn son. You need dead wood, and small for kindlin’ bunch up that newspaper/there’s a lighter in my truck” Next, he made a motion with his hand, simulating a slice, for the backstrap ––careful”

“cut it here, down the spine

(In this part of the story, he moves in weathered muscles–– a bear in the woods) “I don’t fuckin’ know” (rubs his head, puts his gloves on) “…‘cause you know you’re always welcome” ll “Yeah Dad I know” I stood outside, snow was f a ll ll ll in g ll ll ll around us. Deer hung by their hooves ll one after another. ll ll ll ll It wasn’t cold though. No, it was a ll mix of smoke and breath. ll As for the blowtorch, ll ll ll ll ll “you use it to burn away any hair, so it doesn’t get in the meat”

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In the wilderness, Decembers run like deer in the snow. Around a table of blood and beer, American men: “He says to’im he says–– Outside however, our voices would have been ll ll ll ll ll ll wo ll ll ll rds llost in ll

t

snow ll vibr ll ll ll

ll

ll ll

ll fo

ll ll

r ll

ll

he ll ll ll ll

ll a

ll

ll

ll ll

ll

ll

that ll ate

ll

e ll

ll

ll ll ll ll

ll ll

ll

ll

ll

thousand ll years

ll

ll

ll

ll

ik

ll ll ll

ll ll

ll

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Duel Attraction We would visit the lake, to leave behind the exhausted city, dressed in our bath towels and swim suits. Aware of sand and glass on the beach, I would still bend my little knees to clutch a fist of stones, and shoot them like raindrops, or bullets into water. All before it changed into street clothes. Fitting in with city people gone mad with attraction. My guts, my mutinous guts, ready to explode like fire across the intersection. These will be me, my gifts, my guts to the world.

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13


Wretched


Bang I was sprawled, baked in the sun on the first hot day in April. My limbs crossing as I tapped salt onto a tomato. An anesthetic dream fell between the spaces of my fading tattoos, my eyes began to flutter. Fantasizing casinos, academy awards, firm breasts— I sprung to the bang of the furious road that cracked a hole in my afternoon. The sound of a two-stroke engine disfiguring a tree, and I saw adjectives covered in human blood, on her knees and shaking.

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The October Horse Part One. It was here: under florescent overhangs, surrounded by cold, where we raced in our body. Percolating skin bumps, we stand in the bus stop. Cold old boots sold to the sidewalk and grandma in the ear, “where are your gloves?” Rattle me thoroughly sharp affective snowfall as you tragic down routine streets, cocaine pounding concrete silence and we finger bags and cash in our pockets. You know this coffee well, hot through gloves, through free Styrofoam, through and through by building people scarf slits, through naked eyes and soft lips. Feel me tired hours, pass in slow motion vomit, from dream to sleeping Rome, soft in the frozen city. –– Dear Poetry: held a gun today— cocked and jammed it in the mirrors face. Wants to go home. There’s good dinner tonight, I can smell it from this side of the city. But the red ones were mixed with the pink ones and now can’t speak much good than gobbledygook. 18


Here come rushing, here come night. Your breath exists like Christmas lights after a bulb has blown. A fresh night to hunt for miles have left us to interpret pigeon talk, who squawk and squawk near corner chalk after the policemen leave. There’s an old man who has memorized street signs, doubled over to babble at the sidewalk, wagging his wretched finger back and forth. Outside the stained-glass window, Something runs behind me in the dark. Part Two. The wretched, who move between you, sugared into your coffee. We reach and grasp at roaches, look to the faces, pile into cars and smoke with the windows up. We kick the tires coagulated slush from our boots and fever scratch at the lottery. We are young and dangerous, pierced with tattoos, hoods up lumped in groups and mouthing lyrics. Little Danny was a scoundrel, he sold what drugs where left on the corner with four bars. He giggles while he causes mischief 19


in the alley. He lived with another who played an out of tune guitar —grew up eventually, can’t recall how. We had to wait forever for the leaves to come back, me and my big sister skip double-dutch, draw boxes on the sidewalk for friends who can’t come outside. “ain’t the rain gon’ smear it?” miss mary mac (mac mac) where is our mother (mother mother!) is she coming back (back back)— The wild-eyed entertainer who smells like street fuck, who blasts guns and stereo out of any forth story apartment. He shouts out his bath towel windows proclaiming cocksmanship to passing girls. Up the hill, down the hill everyone needs garlic. If I just keep shuffling this cart I’m sure I’ll find a buyer. Who remembers the polish district? Grandfathers I must have known, who poured the cement in the(ir) 20’s. I remember these parades, Italian in the summer, Irish in the Spring. The polish clubs are bowling alleys, St. Anthony is a Greek speaking hipster smoking pot in computer shops. ––

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She bounced beside the prison wall, little disruptive apple. He tossed a cigarette and swallowed, licked the grin from off his face. listen: Lo-lee-ta— She called him a poet. He loved her––and he loved her. Vyers vying in the guard towers, parents preaching to the suburbs, angry parents, with red cheeks, afraid of their televisions, sucking their teeth at the news. Such a good boy he was, he would always sing and dance about like Broadway. Proud of my boy I’d say, neighbors would come and watch him, watch him put on a little show, laugh as he do the police in different voices. He seen all the types, used to study the patterns and the methods on the faces of the wretched. Part Three. The city that broods in silent agony, that hears steel grinding steel. Rusting iron on abandoned railroads, but not abandoned by those unmanageable. An underpass that slithers to county buildings, the ones who cough in unison, wandering hopeless in single file. Waiting for heat, for juice, for under the pig bones of paper plate, for free to stay until morning.

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The city where the wretched perch on boxes like vultures peck pecking at change, who hold cardboard signs that quote reality–– How did I get here? Will work for change of scenery. The wretched that search for freedom (breakfast food) on a subway floor (that’s bought and sold) giving bodies and dirty money to strangers with a cure. A stray dog, afraid of his growl howls his rabies at loving patriots, is saved from death by winter, while hungry homeless see their reflections on bus stop posters that advertise Les Miserables. I have seen where meetings are held in anonymity, where metal folding chairs come from Sunday basements, and gallons of free coffee are swallowed in gulps by pock marked veterans who preach SALVATION to lowly old street grubbers. In the city where short summer months suck the chill from the breeze, where gangsters police the streets of their inmate fathers, who look up through smoke, watching broken light through an intoxicated night. Down we go into the heroin hallway, a junkie saunters past dusty toys, roaches run behind him in the floor boards. His brain has become the surface of the moon. Chest pounding hysterical laughing mad, and grants himself to feel, by leaping head first into the night. How many wretched? How many vicious traditions?

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Part Four. Rub your face a few times, to clear the rust in your eyes. You have to be to work soon, in that overused chain restaurant. It’ll be dark when you get there, unlike the pans stoves knives waitresses all fired up and moving. After your shift, you boring home and stretch yourself into a hot boring. Go ahead and routine, then you can smoke some cigarettes in bed. They were right the whole time–– television is terrifying. –– The snow is far away now, not seeping into your (my, our) socks. Water drips steadily from the ceiling. It drips like–– blood into everything. The houseplants, floorboards, down the painting and into the carpet–– It’s only water–– and so much better to be here I think, than face down in the concrete, arms bound and screaming for my mother.

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Part Five. I have become the routine who falls asleep in a fog of semi-dream between the scent of last nights waiting and solitary breakfast. A memory: Sometime around five I awake to a noise downstairs in another house. Three men in dirty clothes yell over each other, disapproving of the state of things. They pass from self(ish) to self to self the same pipe. Them that banter like balls all the way to Spring. –– Those were the hours after the party. And I, full of gestures, have begun to unwrap myself: All time has passed. Left crumpled on the floor is a road map, one I would not have expected to find in the intoxication from which we came. The anxious double take has replaced the race of campfire hallucinations, the wretched faces who grief in the walls of mud and clay. In an instant, I have fused into the anxious moments— and the hour passes. It is the hour of behavior, the last leg of sacrifice. 24


I starve to prepare for the next anticipation, a deep breath against the plunge. To grind yourself all the way back and forward past that gas station, in two lives, parallel and alive in every one of my histories–– And should the day come where I’m dead, let warring families win my head. –– I have become, only endless, as I tango through time deliriously chanting. I will now, awake to collect the pieces of my youth, and splay them limitless to a compass of distant voices. Weeds wash below a crooked dock that knot into bread baskets for the geese, and I, lipping words on the beach like Yes, and Now, and meet me in the park at three. Steam rises from the lake shore— we are each a galaxy gyration, one which will in-fold itself into the warming curves of my body. We, feeling each other in the spiral of our arms, and colliding in the spaces where we don’t.

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The Hours After At seven, when my allergic cat bats me across the face, when last night’s wild contemplates in flashes under the bed sheets, I skip a shower and spin my tires to breakfast, drink coffee, prod at some eggs and answer a few questions about music. —I drive in silence to the Indian store, deep in the country to buy cheap, effective cigarettes. Cold in the home to feed the cat and read excerpts from Howl (carrying flowers! Down to the river! Into the streets!). Forget the shrieking yesterday, with effort, I could not compose a better morning. (And did I mention that the sun was there?–– it too, surviving all the way to February)

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The New Generation September plays the saxophone on a stone and lite-up stage. A local band of alcoholics have more lines on their faces than guitar tabs, they play for an hour and mingle, before the movie in the park. In the stained yawns of coffee teeth, the crowd begins to settle in, the concession stands turn their lights on, tin boxes ready to raise money for a football team— while the instruments go on rusting. One-dollar chocolate and maybe it’s too cold for ice cream, and maybe there’ll be girls tonight for the boys to impress. A brave one behind the bathrooms, is inching his free hand up the blonde fuzz of a back, darting his eyes this way and that. Her name might be Katharine, who ran smacking barefoot down the sidewalk–– I pass behind the screen like a monster in a wide-angle lens. The suburbs see my shadow rise in smoke. Aren’t you afraid I’ll turn your children to little devils? Nobody eyes me above the newspaper anymore— I notice it now, the change the air makes, the hours are thinning. 27


I’m weary of the wet grass, of its itch. When did that begin? –– I should sit under a tree, where I can nestle myself deep into the folded roots. My fingers smell like tobacco sweat, spiders are crawling in the bark. Two boys, with skin younger than my youngest brother sneak into view from the even houses. They don’t see me leaning in the dark, the hooded hoodrats cross the park. –tar syrup–cotton swab–– spoon–hmmmm–– I’m too old for this devil. My back is stiff, my knees are baseballs. They’re only children–– when i press my fingers in a bald fist around my steering wheel the world becomes a public park shimmering red with half empty wine bottles i can feel humanity on the wind between my crac ked septemb er bones

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Examining the Eggs After examining each egg, its shape and size, I look for spots and cracks and break them one by one into a bowl designated for egg breaking. One piece of shell, one abnormality and we start the process over. After examining each cigarette, its shape and thickness, I look for colored spots, I look for colored spots, I look for colored spots and break them open at the top to pull out their tobacco stomachs and make them thin like me. I whisper, stop, stop One discoloration, one abnormality and we start the process over. After examining my women, their shape and their size, looking for smiles and coffee talks I break them one by one, pull their stomachs through their mouths and shut myself inside the house to keep them from compulsions that they’re much too sweet to see. They whisper, stop, stop, please don’t hide from me. One taste of their heart, one glimpse of the future and we start the process over.

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After examining my body, its shape and its thickness, looking for spots and cracks, I stoke each bone for deformation, and break them one by one into a bowl designated for bone breaking. Then I pull out my brain and examine that too— it whispers, stop, stop, you know what to do. If there’s one lapse in confidence, one faint abnormality, then we start the process over.

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Paradise Diner The early hours, where hunters lie still in silent trees, a blonde waitress shivers outside her winter diner butting out her cigarette. She flips the lights on while the others make coffee. The dish rags and pans are ready, so is the stray cat by the door who takes questions, “Where did you come from big guy?” and, “You have little beans for toes, don’t you?”. They file in like they did yesterday too— A thick Greek accent bends and says, “look, the little guy is playing with his bacon”. When the joint fills up, and servers stiff arm their way between tables like last night’s home game, one group, covered in camouflage, all lean back, legs crossed under the table, one reaches for another bill. He smiles at the single mother who refills his mug. She keeps a strand of hair covering her face, he likes the way she holds it in her mouth. I’m paying attention–– his grin is wiped away with a napkin. Without permission, he turned to me, looked deep into the recesses of my face, with instinct veteran wisdom, as if he knew exactly how this poem would end––

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Exodus With some knowledge of myself, I have existed throughout the course of human routine, Since my tongue first curved in vowels, I have spent my time In accidental learning. Now I might say to generations: Humanity is sweet, like silk, and in abundance it pours. We laugh to distract–– to avoid Our present nerves and their deliberate finger Tracings of dust on a table. The reality of encroaching change is Depths and oceans, so we switch sides of the pillow, To uncover a new coolness. Before we sleep, with a faint smile, We force ourselves to believe all suffering To be temporary, Which is true. I have dreamed I am alive, in the breath of a million mannerisms, Which have evolved through natural encounters. There I live in the country, miles from my birth. I would distinctly feel my soul depart, And live in the earth for 40 years Until the trees begin to burn, And I’m told to journey forward. My body and blood will overflow Into the cheap city. And I’m found Smoking on my porch. Where New York Jewesses Spill milk from the window, Yell for dinner to their little New York Yankees, Playing ball late into the Honey-skied evening.

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33


Vampires


The May Queen When I sit upright in bed, visions of you–– like the vines of July rise my body from a well. You, sexy in your summer, in your crown of flowers. To be your victim/ or science project. Your sweet legs run home, they reverberate when you come to a stop at your mailbox to tighten your hair. Your coconut sweat, your hands on your knees, my hands on your breasts (heavy breaths)–– and so am I, who is bare-chested in bed, rifling through his options–– the ones which would lead you through my door.

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Daisy Chained Here I am, tied to a tree at the end of The world. Let me show you what you’re unequipped for: The music of total violin pitted against the Hot light soloist. Periscope your pearl eyed Bow through the echoes of my amphitheater, breath Easy and eighth-note through impatient hours Until I play like them. I arpeggio through tempo traffic to reach the concert, Watch them in adagio to savor the sounds As silver strings scale their way Up the wall to play forever to the coda. Slender motions handshake their way through Radio waves on the drive from The city to the bathroom. All my people herd around, Social-spying on my sweet dream sink of consciousness. Wake me in the morning, the red wine vomit in my Bathtub will still be bloody tomorrow. –– I remember when we met though, shuffling cards In the corner. It took a while For me to learn your name (and mouth it back to myself). I lingered in the corner, you, in a (Dolores) Haze of thought–– While I considered several ways in which to bite you. Forget the music, all That matters now is that we speak, I’ll start––

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As I watched you leave in skin tight jeans My head would follow the seam Of stitching that daisy-chained up Your shirt and ended in patterns of pink On your flawless neck. But listen, here’s the best part: Your neck, when I get to taste it, has birds squawking in the windows Like gamblers who throw money at dogs.

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Where the Tomatoes Came From Her mother, familiar by the geraniums, in a wooden chair—                            sips on entitlement. Dark woman with a dry red remembers the grapes of the Mediterranean. How her parents took their wine in gulps,              in billowy shirts, their legs planted in the heart of Italy. She swats at the memory like a hornet and says—                                                   Look at these tomatoes!                It wasn’t precious Emily who brought them.                It wasn’t the nice boy’s stagnant familiarity, It was me, Mrs. D—–– I gave your daughter the tomatoes. Really now–– there’s no need to shudder.

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Waltz No. 2 We renamed this music more than once. These strings swell, their rhythms like ours, sewn between the sheet (‘s) music, aching for crescendos. The light fixtures spin above, and below a view of outer space, colliding where the snow can’t. The solo trombone waltzes through warmly. Here comes the final refrain of the band, but first I have a plan–– to sweep my aging hands across your tiny waist.

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July The summer of flies, the summer of flickered ‘no vacancy’ signs —lost deep in farm country. The summer of late poetry in campfire heat, of gust and smack through the screen door, of the creeping slither of the thin tree snake, he watches— waiting by the lake to bite the children. The fading summer where afternoons abandon hours and reemerge as evening showers that drench us in venom and perfume. Nervous summer, waltzing Russian summer. The summer of drifting sweetness, makes me hum into the ice I taste against your tongue. The summer of restless Saturdays when the old dog waits for you to return home. Cryptic eyes of sweet July that glare beyond the opaque water, they have gathered to the swimming hole, in dozens of pairs to expose their fangs. Tremble, hold your nose and plunge, to where the snakes that swim can pull their length around your limbs and sew between our summer violence, in the water/ fast and silent.

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About the author Alex Johnston was born in 1988 in Auburn, NY where he currently resides. He is an undergraduate at Empire State College as a major in Western Literature. Aside of writing, he is also a professional violinist, which he teaches, along with guitar. On Fire and Roses is his first book length collection of poetry. His work has also appeared in a number of other print and online publications.

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ON FIRE poetry by

and

ROSES

Alex Johnston

On Fire and Roses is the first full-length poetry collection by award winning poet Alex Johnston. This immersive compilation contains poems ranging from sentimental and touching to sinister and seductive. With this book, Mr. Johnston joins the ranks of a new generation of poetic trailblazers with his stunning debut collection.

This is a sample. To order the complete 108-page book please visit our website: www.lummoxpress.com

On Fire and Roses sampler  

On Fire and Roses is the first full-length poetry collection by award winning poet Alex Johnston. This immersive compilation contains poems...

On Fire and Roses sampler  

On Fire and Roses is the first full-length poetry collection by award winning poet Alex Johnston. This immersive compilation contains poems...

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