The wind gives an off shade of Savannah.
Or is it burnt August, a way of conditioning day
to glimpse the dignity of its body? The sun peels
in a skin of ripened blood orange. Lately I’ve not
been able to decipher the lines between mutual
and complementary. For instance, the sky lingers
increasingly black against each stretch of asphalt.
My skin burns blue, so long as the light cooperates.
The air a moaning gravel beat; the mornings wail
and wail. Sharp tire skid, engine switch or a faint
rhythmic laughing. In the wind, a subvocalization.
Or do I recoil, skip back a step each time my chest
loses track of itself? Any crevice is an elegy; the air
skirts the edges of lead and blistered bark, looses
its voice through town to stagnant crop, a passive
field, an incantation. I ridge my bones and collapse
two taut fingers against the crown of my skull, pray
to blackwick or rose that evening’s violent mouth
takes only those fractions of fruit that it can suffer.
Air clings to skin like sawdust. It’s almost that simple. My lungs touch the world like an iron
filling, a suture, a pile of rust accumulating in someone’s pocket. I’d like winter to be a bone in
my palm that I could take with me anywhere I go. I’m not trying to be impractical. I’m just
standing on a rock in the middle of a creek bed staring at a sky stacked like sand in a bottle.
Rose on a skin on a bed of matches. Call it the sun not-quite-rising. It’s just a way of giving in
to the end of any legacy.
I grew up with a willow marking my way into the world.
Every morning, it lingered at the base of the driveway like a stranger
that I’d grown too familiar with. It billowed in a bed of ivy,
receded and drew me towards its fluid mass. I’m not sure when
it happened but it consumed everything I thought I was becoming.
I don’t need to tell a story I told myself this morning
as the mirror shattered my illusion of being an indescribable thing.
There are ways to shed light and there are things I am
responsible for saying. I try too often to take that weight
into the privilege of not suffering for it.
I’d like to say that around me in the ankle-deep water there’s a circle of people singing, all
slightly off time from each other. I’d like to say that I can’t understand any of their words. But
really, the morning’s quiet except for the insects and the creek’s drawl against the rocks and the
cars passing on the highway behind the trees. I’d like to say that I’m the water and that there’s a
circle of people standing in me. A tadpole. A bottle cap. A slit of silver like a flash of light and
not a thing to cut with. And the clouds. Blueblack. They settle into the pit of my stomach and
live there, give back shade to the rise of a sternum.
The water strokes my feet as the sun bleeds through the trees and makes a home in my chest.
It’s an act of arrest, a puncture that leaves me still-hearted. For a moment my body is a chrysalis
as the creek takes a face and gives it back again. I’m caught between the ways that any given
object varies. I stand in my constituent others and can’t contain them; the water is in knots.
I watch as it tangles and loses the thought it came for.
For years I did my best to do away with having a best practice.
I’d break into half-constructed houses, imagine what it would mean
to live there. I’d start small fires and make sure
to put them out before leaving. This was a kind of living
that didn’t seem to mean anything, until the next kind of living.
The wind picks up and the creek seems like it’s rising, but it’s not. I’m trying to listen
as carefully as I can, trying to pry one from another like that gesture could give rise to a clear sense
of anything. This is a place where willows should come to gather, a place to trace the edges of a
body and what its been made to be. A clearing like the face of a sunflower. A thicket between
two palms that suggests its own mortality.
The first person that I saw die was a stranger and I
couldn’t stomach how intimate it was, seeing the body face down
against the concrete with the traffic not stopping. The second
was a friend and the second I saw the body I felt like we’d never met.
I started to define myself by the way I saw the people
around me, gave up on trying to define them.
And so the trees are less than definite. Still on the rock, I keep falling short of the habits I want
to believe in. I’m standing here in a body that I can’t stand to do away with. The light a blister
making its way into the world. I am a place that I can’t fathom. A bleeding into. A little skip. A
rock that dips down below the surface and rises back like heaven. Across the water, there’s a
willow shedding petals it can only imagine. I’d like for it all to be that simple. I’d like the scene
to make the best of me even when there’s no reason to.
One night, when I was too young
to be out after dark, I went down to the river
with a friend and made a masterpiece of flowers.
We watched it float in the water, skull-white and aching for something
to leave behind. We talked as the petals began to sink but I forgot about them
even before they were submerged and this became a lesson
I could never get away from.
Self-Portrait in Rust
Water defines its conflict on a face of brick,
thin furrows, an elemental touch so sustained
morning opens and becomes an antiquity.
At the base of the alley wall, a scrap of metal
burrows through my skin, limbs blistered
in stuck sun as the red oxide climbs like sky
into my chest, alarmed and wanting to fal
l through the world. I want to fall through
a world that forgives self-harm, that forgives
each unarmed moment of fear occupying
any stasis. I writhe in the mornings and know
the red glare in the window better than I
know my aversion to it. I pull a sharp heart
from my body in the way that all weapons
have been pulled from the earth and forged
in that scornful pit of human spite, in the urge
to eliminate fear or other. Iron ore stripped
from a mountainside and fashioned in the fire
of automatic conquest, uranium made so large
that god’s eye itself couldn’t hold a flame
to that vengeance. We’ve guided Earth’s hand
to the cold point of a blade, made its surface
a fragile layer of skin. I want to fall through
a world that guides the fingers away from that
violence and takes the still-breathing body
in caress. I want to take my rusted heart out
of the alley and into the home, not to clean it
but to say listen, listen for the ways you can live.
Jacob Griffin Hall was raised outside of Atlanta, Ga and is now a PhD student at the University of Missouri. In the past, he has worked as the assistant poetry editor for the Mid-American Review and he currently works with The Missouri Review. His poems have appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Menacing Hedge, Madcap Review, Santa Ana River Review, Stirring, and elsewhere.