Back to Issue Twenty-One.

offering, with frost and spoiled fruit



What if, the ground grown coarse
with frost, trees overgrown
gangling in sleeves of ice

encasing an orange
thrown out, yeasted-over—
inches from the fruit, you

shucked your clothes
and lay down into
only yourself again?

Sharp and thin
the frost is an in; the quiet
woolling everything, a tell.

Well-water a clog of crystal;
cardinal a prick of red
working to unclot it. . . If

I pause long enough
with my back flush against the frost
I know the names of things are pinched

or widened variations on an animal’s
prearticulate death-huff.
An identical steam when I say

either eye or orange.
Inside the white puff
it is hard to see the blood-spatter

but it’s there—
the latter giving life
to the former.


By this time the backs of my knees

are bluer than before.
Lashes scrim my vision like toothy fire.
The trees now garlanded

I want to feel believed.
If I tore my clothes into strips and

swaddled the spoiled orange would you
believe that there’s a light inside.
Would you if night fell and

the frost pricked into me.
Belief is a sharp bract
in a darkness. It’s not dark yet

but evenings when beetles light the land
with their moistened backs
a doe crunches near enough to sniff

oils on me—And I having thought
it once more beautiful when hacked
into separate, shining hunks—

like the diagram of manhood dissected
on the tv-screen, advertising
a man with a pill that would

pass through the halls of himself, a bird
taking in the dark world
in contours, whitening the walls

with its cry. The pill
a distillation of “stinging nettle”
you’d find

in the yard. The chalk pill
“returning men to a normal
existence.” I want to be

in charge of my own
disorder, like a hound
raised in a hall closet,

knocking its head against empty frames,
lightless mirrors—but
told from the beginning all it sees

inside itself that needs to be done
will never be done
outside of darkness.



the dead



ask me which births are most important. I smooth the grass. It’s accidental
reverence I don’t repeat. What happens where they are happens again and
again like inclement weather in an artery. If you snuff yourself out there
will be no scentless fawns to overlook again. There will be nothing in rut.
You’ll keep loading the same shadowy men with your own wishes,
expecting them to see the sky as you: hay. No sun. Just sight departing and
departing like a kingfisher’s beak in the sea’s humdrum conversation. This
one fact, which is your life in time, is meant to be vocal so why haven’t
you slipped your hand into something you’re afraid of. “Beside,” they said
to fear, and “alone.” Why haven’t you trembled at the bristling animal
inside you, haven’t you touched the chest of a christ and offered to harm
him first. O death, the old noir, red raincoat in grey vellum, glossy scream
trapped as ripples in the custard. The dead tell me the markets are
flowering there, there are snapping flags and salted rabbit, prayers writ on
the inside of teacups you buy to blind you after you’ve had your fill. You
know the drill. Lonely man walks into an alley of thought, looking to be
hollowed. This is the realm of the market just past the flamy-pink onions,
where the shadows won’t speak to you. You pick the one that looks most
like you, you step in. Fold your clothes before, then after, and step out.



all month i dreamt of losing



a baby in a coal town—
abandoned, graves toxic

from slurry fumes—forgetting
its body on a shelf by a clock;
raking it in a pile of gold

tattered leaves; dropping it
in kindness, a coin
in a beggar’s cup. Today

I smell like leaves, or shirtsleeves
you can’t wash of sour earth.
Today’s another I outlived myself.

Though last night the stars stippled
the lake of oil beside the tire,
semi-red and gold unlacquered,

like the arm of a blood patient
whose doctors are shy, too kind.
I am shy and unkind and

no need to tell a freckle of glass
slipped into the waterglass
or the dead are always cold

as the river chews their collars
I’d drink it myself after all.
Back then, in the dream,

there were no flowers and
the churchyard daisied
with split gold bells.

I waded into the river,
somehow clean, with the child
and climbed the bank-rim out

alone. I’m afraid I see
my tongue is of
no use, my body a raiment

for a ritual I was too shy
to learn. I’ll suffer
tongue after tongue of blurry

laughter on my neck
not understanding the complaint.
In the dream I had fathered

nothing. I drank nothing. I
breakfasted on honey in a cellar.
Loved nothing; was witness

or web to nothing. I thought
to refuse to be a man.
For example, were I truly

unordinary, I could lie
in moss and in sleep
devise horses, dollmakers,

unripened fruit, the cure
for faulty blood. I could birth
the shadow beneath a stone

and near the shadow that keeps
a spirit fed. The spirit piebald
humming like I remember

my brother. In the tub faceup
eyes white from looking
too long inward. In the coal town

the doors stand whitely still
in shadows shaped like houses.
Even the keys are made of ash.

Keys the shape my brother had
been, a buddha whittled imprecisely
underwater. In the coal town

my brother would get his child,
would go to the river, crooked
and watchful, and find

a tiny hand reaching up through
the dimpled mirror. In the dream
I had no brothers. I had

the child, who was mine.
When I wake again, into
the fumes and smell of ash,

the grey keys of clouds shadowing
the child’s cheek, a septic
gravestone, its hand warmer

for my brother’s touch,
and sense nothing has changed,
the waterglass still webbed, and

the freckle of mirrorglass drunk
from it, for I’d already
peeled my clothes off and gone

to the river, the finches I’d forgotten
brothering in weedy clumps
over it, leafscattering

their shadows over its wrinkled
silver, and sense nothing
has changed, I can chew my thumb,

swallow a half-moon,
look in the face in the mirror and say
You are not my brother.

A native of West Virginia, Justin Wymer has received fellowships from the University of Iowa and Harvard Office for the Arts as well as a Rockefeller International Experience Grant and the Captain Jonathan Fay Prize. His poems appear in Boston Review, Columbia Journal, Conjunctions, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Kenyon Review, Lana Turner, Nat. Brut, Poetry Daily, Thrush Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. He teaches in Galicia, Spain, and in the fall will begin a PhD in creative writing and literature at the University of Denver.

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