Michael Cory CC
The air is what we mix with it— Coors Light and Citronella;
aluminum shavings that float, like polished dirt, all across
the ruins of a city; the scent of wild lavender as it grows
through the ribcage of a dead coyote; entire worlds breathing.
What else does the summer air smell like right before it dies?
What sights would you eat ash for, if they could be unseen?
You lifted the night sky for a moment and showed me the hourglass
of your mother’s patience, the pulsing beer can of your father’s fist,
the dress they draped your sister in when they found her by the river.
Silently, you melted into the rapture of starlight, passed through the
contrails of all the UFOs that ignored your signals; that flew across
your prayers on their return to safer worlds. All at once, the scent of
freezing water crawled into your clothing and you threw away the knife
you fed to tree bark instead of flesh for all those years. The river carried
it to an endless ocean—the exact distance between strength and power.
Some kind of strange beauty sits inside our brains and fills the air
with honeysuckle, dryer sheets, and the hope of a brief, pale light.
All of this, as new worlds continue to be born right behind our eyes.
Something fluttered in the dawning;
traces of stars, the splintered bones
of what could have been a planet.
The rising sun reminded you of a flock
of x-rays piercing through a dying fire.
Your entire life floated out with the tide.
Nothing outsmarts gravity, your father once said.
It was late October, 4 am, on a pebble beach in Main.
I’m standing on a green carpet, waiting out the day,
like I’ve waited out most of my days, overwhelmed
by a stillness which continues to stalk me.
It traces my footsteps when I sneak to the woodshed
for a smoke. I hear it in the next aisle over while I’m
grocery shopping; loudly drumming its fingers
to the insectal buzz of fluorescent lighting, waiting
impatiently while I choose my off-brand of frozen peas.
It huffs, face half hidden behind a trashy magazine,
while I stand in the checkout line at Kroger.
It jogs beside my car in the rain, always keeping pace.
There is a chemical so rare, that it can only be found
tucked somewhere in the shadows of my bedroom
on winter afternoons— days when I should be working.
I can only feel it if I reach out blindly. And only for
a moment, before it morphs into a cobweb or a pale
yellow lampshade or a pile of dirty laundry, left for weeks.
Meanwhile, we buy small packets of tomato seeds
and plan to start a garden, sometime next spring.
Only half of the storm made it to the harbor.
Your mother picked you up by your childhood
and spun you into an ornament, sweet and fragile,
like glass sugar.
In the rain, the best of your forgiveness melted away.
when I found your car, the windshield
was drenched in your brother’s cheapest whiskey.
The air smelled like melting plastic.
It tasted like gravel and summertime,
and all those lemon-lime beach towns
you swore you never loved…
Maybe in another life,
I could find you there
What would another life even look like? I can’t imagine
a silk staircase unraveling, can’t picture myself
looking through a window and suddenly the glass
begins to melt into solid light, and we’re children
again, pulling ourselves through a snow bank, closer
and closer to a warm evening of Pop Rocks and rented
movies. Even if I set out on a journey to a distant
mountain monastery, the monks couldn’t teach me
to resemble a leaf, at dawn, unfolding like the constellations.
Would there be floating pillars? Bored Virgins?
A feast, never ending, where you always stopped
yourself after three beers? I wouldn’t place
a nickel on it—that in your moment of darkness,
you looked at a castle of mirrors and walked
towards the light. But, I would eat a bowl of sand
just to prove my doubt wrong—to see you there,
arms folded, and leaning against our family tree.
I’m only sure of two things--
I still carry pieces of your cross on my back
and lilies were your favorite flower.
Our last few months together are mixed in my memory
like concrete—swirling slabs of gray movement.
A silent ride home from the mall, your purse full of stolen makeup.
Dinners with my family, where no one was sure how to make conversation.
The endless hours we spent looking at paint samples for the nursery…
and having to return the brushes.
The line at the liquor store blended
with the lines on the road.
I kept tracking slush into our entry way.
At the same time I was with you,
I was without you.
It was winter and suddenly it was summer.
I talked you into a country drive.
We stopped on the side of the road to watch
a cow giving birth in the center of a pasture.
But the calf never rose to its wobbly legs
or felt the heat of an Indian summer.
It never tasted dandelions.
The mother laid by the calf’s body well past twilight.
I stood by you, as you watched and waited, long after that.
We all mean something different when we say forever.
John Leonard is a professor of composition and assistant editor of Twyckenham Notes, a poetry journal based out of South Bend, Indiana. He holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University. His previous works have appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Sheila-Na-Gig, Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Burningword Literary Journal. His work is forthcoming in Mojave Heart Review and PoeticDiversity. He was the 2016 inaugural recipient of the Wolfson Poetry Award and 2018 recipient of the Josephine K. Piercy Memorial Award. He lives in Elkhart, Indiana with his wife, three cats, and two dogs.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.