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Image by okeykat

Time Taken

Tonight I will take my time with every word.

My palette is scoured & tomorrow’s broom


already waits for me. You wanted to know

about my life—well, it is like


a sixty-four-month orbit around a star

you can’t see till it’s upon you, until you are


exploding with it. The quietest hours are marked

with toilets trading blaspheme, ceiling sighing.


And there is silence. And there is walled laughter

I liken to great, unruly canyoned rivers


that run through us all. I don’t break stones

beside any earthly road, but you will find me


paving & unpaving this house of sleep,

its dark garage where I park my body


before my departing. Tonight I have taken my time

& bottled it up with paper, stoppered it with nothing


but the gravity of one eye closing.


I had already been thinking

about suffering as sustenance

for ten long years when

my mother told me calmly over the phone

about the sweat bees, four of them

trapped behind a woman’s eyelid,

how they had surrounded

the duct & its pouring forth,

devouring tears before

their division into drops, like a dog

who laps: at the spigot,

a tremendous wound—

and of course the bees never knew

they were trapped, how could they

without the need

to try the knob

to find out if it is locked.

Dry Country

Clairvoyant, your skin

shivered before I touched it.


Like all that is cold-blooded,

I begin the day by basking.


I can never tell which side

of the window is dirty,


so I break it and clean up

every little piece.


I take the dustpan far

to the back of my mind and pour.


You can hear the twinkle of glass

about a lightyear later.


I tell the doctor

sir I need a shot of morphine


just to be here on Earth.

Gravity ails me,


Earthlings ail me,

the sun & all its brother stars


ail me. The doctor prescribed aspirin

& a century in a drier climate.


So I am in the dry country.

It is dry and I have run out of aspirin.


Perhaps tomorrow: rain.

ALEX TRETBAR won the 2022 PEN America Prison Writing Contest in Poetry, and was a finalist for the 2021 PEN/Edward Bunker Prize in Fiction. His work appears in or is forthcoming from Southeast Review, Poetry Northwest, Snarl, Cobra Milk, and INKSOUNDS. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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