Two Poems by Jeff Whitney
All week a woman down the street has been licking
a shotgun. On the toilet, at the foot of her bed, on the roof
under the moon’s open eye. Of course, nobody knows
this. In the mornings they pass by in cars
like zebras of opposing stampedes. Maybe they wave
or maybe they are fiddling with the radio.
Maybe there is another word for hell and we
keep spelling it wrong. At any rate, marshmallows
find their way into houses. Children bob
in swimming pools. Nobody remembers
the last time they found a coin in their oatmeal.
At night the windows turn off like a city
at war. The children wake up and leave
with toilet paper in their bags. They whisper, and
when they whisper, the woman on the roof
holds her shotgun to her side like an old lover
she used to kiss not expecting better days.
Maybe there is a man in your bed every morning
who weeps at the blue face of television. Say he loved
someone who died long ago. Say the lake
is a body of whispers. The roiling storm
just god dragging his grey-black finger across
Earth. Say a cow is being hanged, a barn
on fire. There is always a barn on fire.
And yes there are monsters. What we do
to stay alive, how we say I’m leaving
soon. And in the fields, the sun, bored
magician, yanking rabbits from the ether,
spilling orchards from the pockets of our dead…
You say this story lacks
theatrics so here
is you on a motorcycle
jumping a canyon
and you below trying
to sculpt David from ice
only you don’t remember
what to do with your hands
and now you are falling
from sky in a slow glitter,
every bit the asteroid
you wished you could be.
After a while we learn there are no ponies
in the field or civilizations at the back of our closets,
no butterflies released from the astronaut’s palm
across on the surface of the moon. Neighbors know
the secret to eternity and hand it out
in leaflets. Storms gather like jackals and
leave in whispers. Clouds catwalk away
on legs of lightning. Here, we are always waving
as if from separate balloons charting different
heavens. The ones we close our eyes to see.
That winter I tried to remember the story of the watermelon salesman
who turned into a pile of shoes a road away from the home
of the eccentric aunt who kept fruit the shape of heads
cold in a well, who played piano to a room of ghosts, who
at night became the creeping mist that rolled like a tongue
through the heart of town. I was living my own story
of abandon, having left a woman forever and three towns,
having studied a family of storks for six months, their glide,
their clacking beaks when coming home, their nests as big as clouds.
If every story ends in poverty, I want to know what happens
after, what a river unfolds, what blood. Metal in the sky
turns rust on the body of a bicycle leaning against a barn
tomorrow and I still don’t know what happened to Quixote
after he came home. What to him was a shadow and
what a monster. What a watermelon salesman has to do
with grace, what a mountain can accomplish stabbing red the sky.
Jeff Whitney is the author of The Tree With Lights In It (Thrush Press). With the poet Philip Schaefer, he co-authored Smoke Tones (Phantom Books) and Radio Silence, winner of the 2014 Black River Chapbook competition from Black Lawrence Press. Recent poems can be found in Beloit Poetry Journal, Blackbird, Birdfeast, Columbia Poetry Review, and Poetry Northwest. He lives and teaches in Portland.
Tags: Better Days, Fruita Pulp, Jeff Whitney, Poetry, Theme