Back to Issue Thirty-Two

Diary of Lost Things, Entry #59: Ba’s Jacket

2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry

I am trying to write plainly. I am trying not to be sad
about suede & brass. Four pockets. A decade of Torontos
on my father’s back. I’m not sad, just cold & pissed, because
what I lost rides north in a white van, & when its finder stops
in Dwangwa for gas & Pall Malls, he will be infinitely
warmer than me. My loss will sleeve him. As for me, I am outside
the bar. The sky above me is so thick with wings that the stars
seem to wink, like turn signals. This is a world in which a fruit bat
can, for a split second, swallow a sun. This is a world
in which sons veil themselves from their fathers. I was eighteen
once. I needled my arm with ink. Sleeved in suede & brass,
I kept my father at bay. Picture my ink-boy in his ink-boat.
He wears a wolfskin. His left arm dangles over the ink-sea
where his fingers brush the water—a raised blur,
a smudge in the skin. I am trying to write plainly. The worst nights
are my birthright. The smudge is a scar. As the jacket sleeps
in Karonga, I think of the nights I spent awake, making
an ashtray of my body. I was not sad. Just cold.



Extinction Event #6 at the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium

2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry

Unfortunately, the horseshoe crab is not
that upturned bowl behind the glass
but the mess of legs beneath it, legs whirring
like gears in some large & expensive clock,
a surgery of them, so sharp, so painfully precise in how
they wound the sand. That Cambrian crawl.
That lurch of blades. It’s more than enough
to unseat me from my throne
of comfort, my great hall in which empty things
move as if full, where suits of armor carry ghosts
or ancestral hurts or some other deep & primordial
magic, but never all these legs. No, what I see
is too much, too many. Which leads me to you.
The name we share. This fossil record, this love
written again & again in the dirt. Imagine a door
at the bottom of the ocean. What of us escapes
the end? What scuttles into the light, tongueless
& proud of it, tearing up the seafloor
with its thousand wordless limbs?



Sonnet, Laser-engraved on the 30-round Magazine of a Colt AR-15 Purchased at Brownell’s Inc. in Grinnell, Iowa, 2019

2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry

All the time I am losing teeth. A grinful
of pale horses looses itself each night
from the stable in my jaws, seeking heat &
taking it. I am ashamed I cannot recall
their names. Too many releases. But the bodies
they bear, how they hollow my mouth & nestle
inside, how they jacket my throat in shine—

how can I forget? I cannot forget

that loss is a thing with hooves. That it grazes
skin & spine. That there are only two sides
to a stampede, those who run & those who bleed,
& all I can do is hold them. Carry their coats.
Conceal them from each other until they bolt,
like the beasts they are, for warmer holes to die in.



Ode to Future Hendrix in the Year of the Goat

2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry

This blessing should include a Styrofoam cup,
an ocean of sweetness to fill said cup.

Niceties & diamond grins. May your dirty money
be enveloped in red. May your dirty hands cup

something clean, clean meaning Amiri jeans
with the Saint Laurent jacket (XL, mink hood), cup

meaning anything that gives its shape to the weight
it carries. For example, the king in my ear is a cup

full of ghosts. Hungry ones. I know the devil is real.
Ragged throat. Slur-breath. Death wish hiccupping

across the drums like an ’83 Cutlass Supreme
(candypaint with custom Forgiatos), cupping

the moon in rearview. May we one day grow as full
as the pale bodies behind his tongue, a couple

grams of white & some purple to chase it home.
No past. No future. Just two bottomless cups.




Steven Duong is an American writer. A Thomas J. Watson Fellow, he is currently conducting a yearlong writing project titled “Freshwater Fish and the Poetry of Containment,” which has, so far, taken him to Malawi, China, and Thailand. His poems appear in Pleiades, Passages North, Salt Hill Journal, The Shallow Ends, The Margins, and other places. He grew up in San Diego, California. Visit him online at, or on Twitter @boneless_koi.

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