Two Poems | by Justin Karcher

America Is a Desert of Drugs Where the Only Water Tastes Like Antifreeze

I’m plunked on an Adirondack Chair on my back deck and it’s Friday night
Three weeks sober
I hear that if you make it to 90 days then you’re onto something
I also hear airplanes in the sky speaking in tongues
It’s finally summer here
Or at least it feels like it

Carly’s inside lying on the couch watching House of Cards
Tom’s sitting across from me writing poetry on my laptop
There’s this half-dead tree staring at me
Half of it covered in leaves that blow when there’s coke in the air
The other half just branches with buds never smoked
I’m not too sure which is the better half

And those planes overhead
They’ll be dropping people off at airports I’ll probably never see
Lovers I’ll never taste, baggage I’ll never have

The President is wandering around Europe
Curb stomping icebergs and drinking their antifreeze like a Slurpee
France is crying, France is a deep sky blue
On beaches the bones of dead American soldiers are trying to come together again
If living breathing Americans don’t fight this madness
Destiny has no choice but to reanimate the braver dead
That’s how you achieve greatness

A couple blocks away there are opioid addicts trying to drink the Great Lakes
Since ‘Great’ is in the name
They think that waterboarding their lungs with that industrial water
Will make them great again
They struggle with the swallowing
They don’t feel great
In fact, they spit out very small snails
The snails tell them they’re hitting the road and going westward
The addicts decide to follow
There are big plans of turning the Pacific into a motel bathtub
Where we’ll spend the rest of our days shriveling up into nothing in relative anonymity
And hopefully there’ll be thick clutters of bawdy sand hill cranes outside our windows singing us to sleep every night
Still though, I’m crying on the inside, I feel a deep sky blue
Like wolves in winter buried under high society

Tom tells me my eyes look watery
I tell him that I have blurred vision
He asks me if I’m feeling okay
I tell him my eyes look watery because I’m chain smoking
And there’s all this smoke like somebody set the house on fire
But maybe I really do have blurred vision
They say that if you’re a poet you should go on a vision quest
Do a bunch of drugs in the desert and see some crazy shit
Become one with your spirit animal and break out of prison

But there are no coyotes where I come from
No vision quests
No deserts where flowers bloom the sweetest
And the drugs are like snowflakes materializing on your tongue
The only sweat lodge is a bathhouse in the burbs run by a couple of Russians
Where strange men get naked and then put on robes
And smoke cigars made of discarded steel parts scoured from riverfront factories
Where they talk about cold wars
Where sometimes polar bears in drag dance to Ariana Grande
And then run and hide when the bombs drop
London is crying, London is a deep sky blue

Maybe the only sweat lodge is a bathhouse in our brains
Where we dig through basement toolboxes looking for moldy wigs to wear
Because after all these years we still want to be beautiful
Even when beauty has been stuffed with so much poison it’s unrecognizable
Like taxidermy with a twist
We still want our inside selves to be spotlighted on stage for all to see

We’ll still be dancing when the whole world melts
When all the drugs are gone
Because we’re not blind yet
Because we’re not Oedipus
Maybe there’s no desert to wander in anymore
No coyotes calling us home

O living people all over America
I rub my fingers through your warmer weather
And my bones melt
Now there are only bedsheets inside me where the bones should be
Nothing to hold me up and that’s okay
Tom asks me if I’m feeling okay
I tell him that it’s time to go home
I have one last cigarette, head back inside, wake up Carly and we go to bed



Dead Whales Are Full of Stained Glass

If I were to build a house
Out of the dead dreams
Of me and all my friends,
What would it look like?

Would there be stained glass windows like in churches?
Rainbows as sharp as knives cutting everybody’s eyes?
Would the blood tell our stories the way we want them to be told –
With pride, with intent?

Would we be portrayed as messiahs turning teardrops into Red Bull?
A sense of sadness did always give us energy.
Would we be portrayed as apostles with pigeon wings
Perched on the rooftops of crack houses like overdosed gargoyles,

The mountains in our limbs
Suggesting that we’ve always been pretty bad at moving on?
How we’ve mastered the art of stillness under streetlights
Waiting for whomever staring into us to make the first move?

When the bombs explode over Hawaii
And bulimic whales in grass skirts wash ashore on beaches in California,
Who will touch our lips then?
Who will sit us down on the hoods of abandoned cars

And tell us that there are no more roads in America,
That the interstates are dressed in tolls too pricey to undress,
That we may never again speed across a beautiful nakedness toward oceans
And playlists and a sunlight that slits the throats of our hunger?

That maybe all we have left are the churches we build
When there are no more pews to kneel on?
For the love of God, no!
Now let us pray that our bodies never become stained glass

That’s too easy to break.




Justin Karcher is the author of Tailgating at the Gates of Hell from Ghost City Press, the chapbook When Severed Ears Sing You Songs from CWP Collective Press, and the micro-chapbook Just Because You’ve Been Hospitalized for Depression Doesn’t Mean You’re Kanye West from Ghost City Press, as part of their 2017 summer micro-chapbook series. His recent work has appeared in Foundlings, Cease,Cows, Thought Catalog, varsity goth and more. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Ghost City Review. His one act play When Blizzard Babies Turn to Stone premiered in February at Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo, NY. He tweets @Justin_Karcher.




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