John McKernan

Every street in Chicago has zeros or O’s in addresses in every block    I feel right at home here with the slug-dented rusting stop signs above the overflowing wire mesh trash barrels    Blowing snow crusting my VW    Waiting for the Triple-A Road Service    I haven’t slept since 27 hours ago in Omaha but there’s still a tiny bit of me left listening to Dylan’s Christian album tumbling down from that second story window    He knew how to whisper a growl

When I lean back with eyes closed a zigzag of pain limps across the back of my neck    I got a haircut last week at the Barber College and the girl was gorgeous with chewing gum and the kind of perfume you would buy    She used a trimmer at the wrong angle to block my neck and ended up tattooing me    It stung    A line of red dots    Probably infected    Hurts when I touch it

I don’t want to start thinking about you again    But here you are in my skull – probably in disguise – with some of your favorite music    You’re whispering too now We’re having sex right here in Chicago but it’s Spring Break    Years ago    You never screamed but I always sensed you wanted to    Twelve years of Catholic nuns    Silence    A prayerful attitude    Your silence was always able to coax the ghost me out of hiding    Part of you would come out of hiding too Just before you would come you would squeeze your eyes so tight together a tiny drop of moisture would gather in either corner of your right eye It looked just like a tiny tear    I believe one of us was saying    "This feels perfect    This is what I want"    Rolling clouds    The valves of the throat    Blood

Wall of night    Clank-slug of tire chains    Lottery ticket of white light & amber light    I like it when the battery cables spark and a hint of greasy ozone punctuates the sleepy air    Not exactly inside the brain but not under the icy hood either    I’d hate to have to work this time of night in this kind of neighborhood    But there’s always the music and he probably has a tire iron and a pistol in his tool kit

Imaginary friends are best although they don’t know what shelf to find the cat food on or how much or the code for the security alarm

Some of our friends return as enemies    They keep repeating    “Listen    I’m not going to say anything    I wasn’t saying anything    Do you know who your husband has been seeing?    Aren’t you worried about your daughter?    About making the world smaller?”

You keep asking me    Why don’t you want to go to Moscow    To New York    To the family reunion    To Maui or Molakai    Why won’t you even look at the pictures?    Do you think the world is only a new venue for terrorists wearing their skull shawls?

Here’s how I remember that day    It was the day after I got the flu shot at the walk-in clinic and my upper arm was black & blue & yellow & green and in the shape of a closed fist    Hard to imagine a single needle doing that much color in one-tenth of a second

That day began rosy with three clouds at sunrise    Something like a soft green wind lifted twilight into our eyes    Later    Much later    You held the plate over the cedar patio the way priests used to give communion and then you dropped it    Something inaudible vanished    Why would you want to make a plate smaller?    I am willing to compare notes

I hate your cell phone    Your voice sounds like the BFI truck behind the pool on Thursday mornings    I’d tell you to get out of the car but I guess some unknowable language is swirling around the Rent-a-Truck in front of you just ready to be hijacked    Even in person it is still an hour before sunrise

Yes    I will close that bank account    Although I have always enjoyed the numbers on the monthly statements    Rhyming and obscene and in certain slants of light and wind — Exciting

John McKernan recently retired after teaching ten million years at Marshall University He lives – mostly – in West Virginia where he edits ABZ Press His poems have been published quite literally everywhere from The Atlantic Monthly to Zuzu’s Petals. His most recent book is a selected poems Resurrection of the Dust
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