photo from unsplash.com (Jamie Morris)
South Cemetery (Mist)
Gray posts hide, still, in grayer fog— granite fangs at the mouth of granite stairs which climb to the top of a hill of bones, retained by ancient masoned granite stones. The verdant sponge demands respectful steps, else frolickers, perhaps, would swallow down into the mud and meet my heroes there; not face-to-face, but-bone-to-bone in time. They’re the shells of men who fruited freedom and lived to see the Revolution through and the farmboys-become-soldiers who crushed the Antebellum’s fausse vie amoureuse. Alongside them sleeps the wars’ widowed score, pinned faithfully ‘neath gothic, demure things which moor my drifting thoughts to family plots, discharging les mots macabres dans ma tête.
Hello, Dad. Your corpse is showing. Jesus Christ. How can anyone feel so lost in such a small space? It’s finally come to this. You … you … Your rusted breath disrupts the beeps that cut the silence in your room. Locked away deep inside your brain or somewhere else altogether, I am without you in this place. I see your patchy skin is here, and so are your jagged toenails, but your laughter is not around. Your unfunny jokes are not. Your mistakenly-purchased women’s sunglasses are not—just your shell. Your last decade is in this room. Your shameless, often shirtless frame; you drummed Wipeout and Rawhide on your belly in our old duplex— now, you always need a sweater. Your hollow gut stretches across your ribcage like a leftover birthday balloon—tied to a tree and deflating at Brentwood park. Our three-day trips to Houston were like jewels in my boyhood crown— poolside at the luxurious Grant Motel. I can remember diving for pop-flies on the lawn and staying up too late watching horror flicks—Mom would not approve. Eating pounds of spicy crawfish … Our trips stopped at a Mack truck’s grille. I grew up—you grew dependent on painkillers and money wires to pay for three-day stints in Austin’s most squalid roach motels. You still owe me for the fleabag room where your skull met the concrete floor; where you went to sleep for the last time. Years of love and disappointment fight in my mind while relatives buzz in my ears. Shut up, Carol! I don’t care about your kidneys. We need to be alone. It’s time to say goodbye. This is it, Dad. This deathbed—my stomach is sour. Your life support has been unplugged. Like the Grant, your facade has been torn down and posterized, living only in faded photographs and ever-distant memories. Soon, you will be ash, wrapped in pine. Ash—all that’s left from your last years; fantasies scribbled on paper under the grate of my fireplace.
They burned you down and boxed you up, then sent you west, to me—all tamped down in a watertight wooden urn—chucked into the Pacific. I’m still annoyed the opioids let you avoid the man you should have been. Now, just Grandfather X; no context—disjointed stories. Absent, one, and the other, gone, and two steps still add up to none. Just a one-eyed stranger in my pictures—you’ve known them in my dreams. I thought I smelled you on my porch one night, but the musk was only me. Heatforms Heat is a summer storm with all the windows down—corpulent droplets to combat air so thick it instantly makes my clean shirt stink like a pair of dirty gym socks. Heat is the frustration of my mother forwarding anti-vax chain emails to everyone she knows and choosing a lie over a relationship with my boys. Heat is my rage—hot like a smoldering gunbarrel on an elementary school floor, pried from the cold, dead hands of yet another free man with God-given rights. Heat is the stinging in my cheeks and the lump in my throat as we tell our sons to play dead and drench themselves in friendly blood— the anxiety of dropping them off. Heat is the calm when she touches my hand. It’s the chill when she tickles my back and peace in her eyes. It’s the pink-skinned pit bull crammed tight between us in bed every night. Lurk Call out to me, O Cloudy Shade! One word would win my trust. Am I to meet my kin again? What lurks behind the dust? Pray, answer me, O Phantom Friend! One word would win my trust. Am I to wander spectral fields, or feed into the crust? Confide in me, O Humble Haunt! One word would win my trust. Coat in your cold, my burning ears. Moan truth in ghostly gust. Declare it now, O Ruthless Wraith! One word would win my trust. Speak, loud, your secret to my soul. My madness screams—you must! The Swell Morose—it swells and sloshes, this creaking levee in my eyes. It drizzles down and stings the snow, for no old gods are hulking here. Why must I shoulder “cease to be?” Does green still smash skyward up the permafrost? Doubt—absence feeds the swell which wreaks its wrecks in me. Bio: Jess Levens is a deep-image poet who lives with his wife, sons and dogs in New England, where he draws inspiration from the region’s landscapes and history. His poetry has been published in The Dillydoun Review, Prometheus Dreaming, Abditory Literary Magazine and Roi Fainéant Press. Jess is a Marine Corps veteran and Northeastern University alum. Follow him on Twitter @levensworks.