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Jackson Burgess


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Maybe it takes a mirror. Maybe it takes shower fog
to recognize the snarl. There is blur at the bottom
of any evening—like last Sunday when I saw a man
smear his date's face with snow. I followed them
up Washington, through the park, as gray flakes fell
in folds. The man lit a cigarette, his face all wrinkled scorch,
and then he stormed away. His date paused, stumbled after him.
Maybe it takes a witness. Tonight I watched a cloud
of fruit flies descend on my kitchen trash. I raised them a toast
as my eyes dried into raisins, my fingernails cracked like glass.
My teeth mumbled prayers against the Iowa chill
and I heard yelling in the apartment next door but I didn't knock.
When everything is finished dying, when the flesh
has turned to soil, it takes the birds still gossiping on the fence posts
and the garbage men running their routes. The crunch
of loneliness echoes off book covers, prescription bottles, bare chests.
In bed with someone you don't love, wiping out wine stains
with a dirty sock, it's the words you catch slouching out
towards needy ears that rip the raw veins free.
Maybe it's an accident. Maybe it takes a detox stint,
or tar. Maybe it takes wrestling the memories you wear like cologne
and burying them in snow. Maybe it takes a lungful.
Maybe it takes it all.


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I. Do you see what I'm seeing, Lily? The bricks are tumbling from cracked tar beds and the ground is drowning in white. Faint laughs escape through barred windows into the night. Over the rooftops lights flicker from the mountain's ribs—I wonder who is out there, whether they're wondering about me. In my dream we climb the temple and you shove me from the spire. Now I'm sprawled on the blacktop, pushing through sheets of memories like clothes on a line. The crows hold up the evening, neon signs lure moths and men. With my knuckles barked and my cheek pressing concrete I'm remembering the way my lips glowed when I last kissed you. I wish I could put you in that car, tie your hands to the wheel, make you look back as I did, because I did, and the sky didn't rain fire, the earth didn't melt. The sun whispered dirges too faint to make out and I kicked the gas into the floor. There's a cold wind tonight—do you see it? It's coming for us, Lily. It's scattering us like salt.

II. You are tearing holes in my pockets, spitting in my beer; now I have to cut you out of every film and frame. It snowed again and the blue fields glisten—leaves and lost hair tumble across the sheen. I held out my hand all night like a net but caught nothing. In my dream you tip-toe in from Los Angeles with a shovel and a glass, the glass full of nothing—nothing you can cup in your hands, nothing that collects behind your eyes. Now I am collecting everything, all this ice beneath a salt sheet, warm oil rebuking the road. One time over a couple 40s Wilbur told me I was a black hole, that I consumed everything within reach—he had half a beard and a bloodied eye. A hole cannot exist in a vacuum. It swallows to survive. Now I'm watching the treeline just to see what weapons you'll have chosen when you finally descend. You've caught me in a blackout, here in this miraculous pile of nothing, this pit dug out of a pit.

III. This is something you can't have: in my dream your tongue is still in my cheek, your panties in my hamper. From my basement apartment I catch the cries of bedsprings upstairs. The snow abides, silencing the grass, but the moon's stagger through the steeples proves you're still out there, chewing your nails, licking a joint. Is it cold where you are? Are you alone? Lately I've been crawling the walls at parties, my only friend the slow clap of plates in the sink. Don't make me remember—now that I have no one to repeat my sleeptalk I'm learning to do it myself. I thought I killed you in the rearview mirror but somehow you keep finding your way back. In my dream my father is reeling in a smallmouth bass, jerking the hook deeper into its lip, waist-deep in green flow. He tells me, Just don't hate her when she leaves. Outside the wind falls flat against sheets of cold slag. Lily, can't you see?


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That's right, I was a gum stain on Sunset, I was the tongue that spat it out. I was a tear in a speaker buzzing like a fuse. Everyone shut up. I was lounging in Big Bear when my friend jumped out of a tree. When all the college kids swarmed the bars, I was an expired condom in a wallet, but I was also the wrapper, and the wallet. Listen: I was a moth making love to a floodlight until the morning smacked me down. I was a bouquet of daffodils tossed off the bridge. I was thinking about how many of my friends are dead, or how I would even know. I was watching videos of people putting their clothes back on after sex. I was the clothes and the skin they concealed. I remember now: I was a television in an empty room, I was a mirror marked with lipstick, I was a squirrel stuck in hot tar.

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