Back to Issue Twenty.

twitch twice, play dead

BY PHILIP SCHAEFER

 

It’s the way we dramamine: devil seas
            buckle the voice box, cinch our language.
                        So we hang garters around our necks.
            The plump moon howls back, kids melt
alongside their plastic figurines. We live forever
            in this wet carcass country. One man’s husband
                        is another man’s crosshairs. One dog’s bone
            another dog’s lone meal. This the undulation
between what we know and what we blow
            up. Trace your jawline to the map
                        and tell me you don’t feel Florida
            sinking. Inside our palms are baby sharks
circling palm trees. Politicians wear the masks
            of other politicians. Our parents get married
                        and divorced again. In the season between seasons,
            when rain comes down in sugar cubes, we take
lighters to weather and get high, go cosmic.
            Our veins crack like a gold-trimmed plate
                        tossed onto the driveway as we tongue
            the ridgeline between pleasure and sharp
blood. When we are good we are only mostly
            good – the dull yellow chance that we will become
                        the ghosts a future self left behind.
            That we can approach, unzip, step into this
water and glow like any dead jellyfish.
            When our shadows fill with bodies, we will write
                        letters to the living. We’ll tell them they too
            will burn like a mattress stuffed with money.
That if they know what’s coming, they’ll bathe
            in gasoline and wait for the honest god’s glory.

 

 

buffalo jump

BY PHILIP SCHAEFER

 

I am trying to understand the body as prize
in new and ceremonious ways. When we finish
making love, I tell myself it’s possible
to understand pleasure only
with my mind. To stop feeling the crude
oil of my joints, the lamp lit with hers.
I recall the story of a people who would force
a stampede of buffalo off a cliff. Eat
the raw heart of the first to fall. What if
we, too, are able to hold wild geraniums
in our teeth and never speak? Grass
as a method of madness and nothing
more. I consider the slow breath
of the lone bull hovering like glass
over the ledge. I feel my pulse twitch
in my throat and begin to dream my eyes back
into the attic of my head. This is a marbled lightning
we contain by being silent. I want the world
to know we will be as loud as the salmon
who swim upstream into their skin.
We will apologize for everything
with our chests in the wind. We will
cannibalize our names until the letters
drip garnet. Blood kettle, bright seed.
 

 

sleeping through deer lodge

BY PHILIP SCHAEFER

 

Here a line of men walk like ants along the midnight
highway until their bodies are muraled to the front
of a semi. One more dandelion skull shaved off
by the good lord. One more switchblade twitch
of the wrist. This the town in which someone leaves
a horseshoe in the mailbox, a lock of blonde
glued to a photo of a girl without a face. This town
where a puppeteer spends weeks in the basement,
pinching our elbows with strings, pinning acupuncture
like railroad ties along the doll’s cloth spine.
Willingly we go alone onto the tracks. We lay
down with mouths open, white sun wringing out
bleach while children jump from rotting bridges
and a retired officer roulettes a warm revolver
into his chin. Here, junkyard boys boil hallelujah
through a slotted spoon in an abandoned forklift.
Some as young as seven. Sam or Steven. Freckled
with constellations, ten gods touching at their cheeks.
One drowns a trash drum with gasoline and waits
for his bones to fill with hickory. One floats
into his own ghost. Their mothers pay
for what they cook. Call it poetry, an allowance.
Girls double-dutch and lung Cinderella until their eyes
turn ash, until they can forget the hard flesh
that never fully filled their mouths. Older brothers.
Drunk uncles teaching lessons of breathe and obey.
The wind a thing to hold onto, its knife a welcomed flight.

 

 

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 individual work out or due out in Kenyon Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Guernica, The Cincinnati Review, Birdfeast, Salt Hill Journal, Bat City Review, Baltimore Review, and Passages North among others. He tends bar in Missoula, MT.

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