Back to Issue Nineteen.

the leavings



Now there is no snow falling, no blue
November road we traveled, no bowlegged
             Saturday balcony
we sat on watching traffic  
                          pass, the traffic’s gone.
No telegrams of smoke
twisting from the city's stacks, no river
of firefly headlights inching down
the distant hill, our chairs
abandoned, our glasses
drinking dust, toppled
by the wind— 
             even the mailman's vanished,
though his cart remains, orange
in the porch light, leaves
like yellow letters
choking its open throat. 


Forgive me, darling,
I'm putting it all in—
             the bridge graffiti's prayer
for better seasons,
the red brick perfect
             abandoned chapel we touched
our lips to each
time driving by it, the lines
like black and white
piano keys  
             the light
through blinds placed
across your naked back—

             But the bottle,
too, the needle, our fingerprinted
                          and the worn
             jean jacket, moon blue
denim ripped across  
                          the chest, mine
before it was yours: the thread,
             the stitches, the patch, the leavings—

Can you see me?
             I'm that shadow
on a North Dakota road.
             I'm stuck in a dust-storm
on a highway outside
Bone. I'm tracing the places,
                          the unzipped
             skin, the six-
inch gashes
                          you laced across your ribs
             with the pyramid tip   
                          of a carpenter's nail.
I carry them with me. 


Goodbye. The sky
             an indecision. The sky
a milky morning
             brightness, flashing  
                          its knives. 

The sky like the longest letter
ever written never sent—  
                          I am trying to explain
how the road can be a bandage. 


A black one.  
             Unraveled. Tar-slicked
like the black  
             slashes of a Motherwell
abstract canvas.             When I last saw you

you were crying, you were   
                                      small, the missing part
             of a chipped tooth, a spot of
tarnish diminishing  
                          in the rearview mirror— 

In your black dress and sandals,
white sky backdrop, standing
on your knees in the center of the road. 

Goodbye Friday street! 
             Goodbye Syracuse, cream
brick churchtop flocked
             with birds. Goodbye abandoned
china factory, famous
coffin maker, secret winter
             ribbon cinched
around my heart—     

Jessica, gold-locked daughter
             of blizzards, stone girl
splitting open—  
                          I am passing   
                                       the last madhouse
             outskirt smokestack,  

I am crying. 

You kept the rain jar. 

I kept the thrift store
             divinity medal, the '67 penny
in the heel of my sneaker.    
                                      You kept the dead
             yellow flowers
wrapped in a roadmap, a bottlecap

of sleeping bees. I kept the single
moth wing sealed   
                          in its envelope, your name  

across the cover. You kept  
             the jacket, I the missing button, little tarnished mark
             I carry always in my pocket. 


Tonight I walk out into stars,
             the everyday shotgun
stars, dumb knucklebone
             burnings, scattershot, trapped
in the moon’s blue orbit. 

The horizon’s on fire. 

I know it is only the light
             from port cranes, their night-lit
tips, but I imagine a factory in flames
             beneath it, withered back to its frame. 

Once, from the front porch, in the snow, 
             I screamed your name
so loudly into darkness
             I woke the neighbors. I didn’t think
I wanted you to turn. In your torn
             jean jacket. Saturday at 3 a.m. 
Years ago. The black patch we sewed. 
             The crazy white stitching.



Chambers 19

Grady Chambers was born and raised in Chicago. His poetry has appeared in Ninth Letter, Diode Poetry Journal, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Devil's Lake, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. He received an MFA in Poetry from Syracuse University, and is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

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