Back to Issue Nineteen.

the leavings


Now there is no snow falling, no blue
November road we traveled, no bowlegged
Saturday balcony
we sat on watching traffic
pass, the traffic’s gone.
No telegrams of smoke
twisting from the city’s stacks, no river
of firefly headlights inching down
the distant hill, our chairs
abandoned, our glasses
drinking dust, toppled
by the wind—
even the mailman’s vanished,
though his cart remains, orange
in the porch light, leaves
like yellow letters
choking its open throat.


Forgive me, darling,
I’m putting it all in—
the bridge graffiti’s prayer
for better seasons,
the red brick perfect
abandoned chapel we touched
our lips to each
time driving by it, the lines
like black and white
piano keys
the light
through blinds placed
across your naked back—

But the bottle,
too, the needle, our fingerprinted
and the worn
jean jacket, moon blue
denim ripped across
the chest, mine
before it was yours: the thread,
the stitches, the patch, the leavings—


Can you see me?
I’m that shadow
on a North Dakota road.
I’m stuck in a dust-storm
on a highway outside
Bone. I’m tracing the places,
the unzipped
skin, the six-
inch gashes
you laced across your ribs
with the pyramid tip
of a carpenter’s nail.
I carry them with me.


Goodbye. The sky
an indecision. The sky
a milky morning
brightness, flashing
its knives.

The sky like the longest letter
ever written never sent—
I am trying to explain
how the road can be a bandage.


A black one.
Unraveled. Tar-slicked
like the black
slashes of a Motherwell
abstract canvas.             When I last saw you

you were crying, you were
small, the missing part
of a chipped tooth, a spot of
tarnish diminishing
in the rearview mirror—

In your black dress and sandals,
white sky backdrop, standing
on your knees in the center of the road.

Goodbye Friday street!
Goodbye Syracuse, cream
brick churchtop flocked
with birds. Goodbye abandoned
china factory, famous
coffin maker, secret winter
ribbon cinched
around my heart—

Jessica, gold-locked daughter
of blizzards, stone girl
splitting open—
I am passing
the last madhouse
outskirt smokestack,

I am crying.


You kept the rain jar.

I kept the thrift store
divinity medal, the ’67 penny
in the heel of my sneaker.
You kept the dead
yellow flowers
wrapped in a roadmap, a bottlecap

of sleeping bees. I kept the single
moth wing sealed
in its envelope, your name

across the cover. You kept
the jacket, I the missing button, little tarnished mark
I carry always in my pocket.


Tonight I walk out into stars,
the everyday shotgun
stars, dumb knucklebone
burnings, scattershot, trapped
in the moon’s blue orbit.

The horizon’s on fire.

I know it is only the light
from port cranes, their night-lit
tips, but I imagine a factory in flames
beneath it, withered back to its frame.

Once, from the front porch, in the snow,
I screamed your name
so loudly into darkness
I woke the neighbors. I didn’t think
I wanted you to turn. In your torn
jean jacket. Saturday at 3 a.m.
Years ago. The black patch we sewed.
The crazy white stitching.

Grady Chambers was born and raised in Chicago. His poetry has appeared in Ninth Letter, Diode Poetry Journal, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Devil’s Lake, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. He received an MFA in Poetry from Syracuse University, and is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.