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.
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.