Editor's note: In 2022, we held a contest seeking the best 2022-word poem. One poet, Bradley David, emerged victorious. This is his poem.
Some People Take The Edge Off
A skyful of stars is called a klonopin. Now that's a universe spinning a new poetic device. I sat for an eclipse that felt like forever. When I put my clothes back on, it didn’t look like me at all.
And to talk about pills out in the open light like that. Morning slips below milk skin boiled black Ceylon tea. Controlling every hour with caffeine's bitter white powder. Something to keep day skin treading water. Congratulating every next hour with any old reward card. Now here's a quick cash back: pay for a truckload of stones. Imagine possibilities in that. Arizona river rock footpath fishing for quartz caviar. All fours get me closer to catarrhine. Don't sell my secrets to a Florida yoga studio. Don't glue my gems to a tacky Texas buckle. I'm subject to that one-legged sparrow above me. That echo-in-a-tin-can chirping I give his back about a twenty-year fuse.
And now the dog needs diapers for a weeping stitched cyst. Oh, I've got it made. The nursing station of saline rinse and tetracaine. She willows the knot in my back with those eyes, those eyes, while I need to her tender side. I think this diaper work is my best yet. You'll know the butterfly Rorschach of blood come changing time. You'll message the vet: it looks bright and pectin like guava jelly, see attached. He'll say I worry too much and something I forget. I remember how pectin gives fruit skin expansion. How excision extends warranties. I'm not kidding about this fifteen-year-old dog's engine. She can give me twenty or she can give me tomorrow. She's in her giving years and I'm in my taking. I'm in the greed of dog love. Taking all I can get of my best work yet.
Every time I wanted something new I had to promise to trim its nails. Change its shavings. Remove batteries so they didn't corrode. Bring it out of the rain. Once I bought an aquarium from the classifieds. Someone didn't bother scooping out a dead kuhli loach. I begged it alive and still mourn other people's mistakes. How many times have I sweat through hell's t-shirt to arrive early too late?
In the morning I'm most popular. That's all I ask of my doves until they find better things to do. Then I hike the advice column up the hill. Transplant that guava, they don't belong in pots. Dab serum under your eyes if you refuse botox. Worry less about door handle germs and more about your thin skin. Lighten up and let things roll off your back. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. What you need is muscle. Omega-3 and protein. From eggs don't eat eggs eat eggs eat eggs.
What you need to do is make a list. Send it to Santa or whichever god is granting wishes this month. When I wish upon a star it falls like a fly in my teacup. When I cower under streetlamps they duck. I chase after my dog who slipped her leash. That's when you've gone from want to to went to. Reflected in diapers that are plastic—she's burning through them like a lobbyist. Sticking me to their industry. What you need to do is watch that one show where everyone does it better.
Well here's a real rhymer that will grit your gizzard. We once had a spoiled produce money party. I mean, fifty-dollar shining green grapes in a set of eight. Forty-dollar strawberries saccharined by some tale about Mount Fuji. Why have nature when you can have capitalism? Dirty and dirtier like water. Kool-Aid has more imagination than those sugar fruit schemes. I'll take the shit and worms and whoever else might show up. While I'm on my knees I'll point out my view. The cash flush plant lab can take it from here. Take a hike. What a sack, all these green-washed frauds. No really, the cat's eye leapt to its death at the end of my stick.
Rush broom, whistle wood, hermit thrush and thistle wool. Remediate the hand-over-fish man in the orange plastic vest. You take on anger when you take on an acre. Barricade every grain of sand and never have enough. What you need to do is hold on tight and learn to let go. That'll have you thinking you're onto some sort of burgeoning nothing. Trust me I've tried writing about beauty. That'll get you kicked out of the club like a minor rhyme. That'll have you wishing you're a better poet's pitbull tip jar. An ocean of Ocean. A marionette movie maker in Marfa. I'd settle to be the rearview mirror in Eileen's dusty Ranger. Looking east for forgiveness, heading west for hope.
Songbirds arrive as those benefactors. Some finch of a thing once dipped its wing in pitch. Threaded its primaries with pine needles, arrived at my agate quarry in a tumbleweed. Second finch, this is true, failing to pluck the barb, asked for help. I pedaled the bike chain of my back off the couch. Sticky lollipop stuck around as I cupped its sweet apricot breast. Soaped a broken starfish out of its wing. Nothing more to be said about that.
A mouthful of cactus is called a frenzy. A flashlight. Extraction as interrogation. Why would you do something like that? Lips too young and tender to understand kisses aren't for caterpillars. Pinned to the kitchen table for a tweezing. What were you thinking? That I'm not old enough to withhold love. That my mouthful is my incubation. My alphabet cover loved of its glitter. Student Of The Year is shot by a deer. Tell me I won by reaching the city. Tell me coming in fourth isn't half bad. Then look away when I'm twice as dumb at the podium. By the way, mix me a double technician and send a bumblefoot duck for my anxious penicillin.
A scattering congress of monarchs is an anhedonia. The man durping shrugs is a cafeteria kazoo. His proboscis slurps butterflies alive because they're golden. Ants massage his peristalsis because they can. Anus dispenses coupons for coupons. Vultures arrive as entrailed benefactors. Like leaking loyal asterisks. Receipts getting longer like fires measured in acres. We read them like they're reading us. Fluttering tails as vibrating thighs. Like muscle memory ghost phones. I dangle mine by its insulting corner. Authentically stamped with lingonberry jam. Now you know where I am. Now you can taste the silky gravy and cold cordwood broccoli. Hey, for ten bucks I can get away from the TV—visit all the world's forests in a single flat pack.
But tonight I'm seeing stars. Abandoning our kitchen wild with compost fruit flies. How does anyone do it without them? Pill if I know how to stick it to this river. Tomorrow again I'll boil the tea and skin the milk. Powder the rope and seed the bragging fuse. This gorge of dirty dishes requires a zip line. Above the sink a windchime of colanders drip. Ding the back of my neck like some jerk's school bus spit. For what I've become. For not keeping up. As if to say, You hunch because you don’t love yourself. I wipe them away as if to say, No, I hunch because you’ve noticed. Now, I'm all out of eyes to loop this lens. Putting them to sky for tomorrow's ants in the insinkerator. Arising early to play the part of something to say.
It hurts tonight, this shape I’m in. Dry pencil curl in a sharpener’s blade. Another page pressed too hard on my lead. I should stoop to soak in the oil of this sink before sinking into the spoils of bed. If fire swept through and cleared the deck, I’d lie content in an oxidized heap. Rusted skin singed off enamel pots. Mattress coils released of their stress. Pans relaxing into a hush of snowy coal awaiting summer’s carbon-seasoned simmer of beans. Swipes of oil across its brow. A drip of sweat upon its face—tests of will to take back the heat. Let's string soup cans from our ears to let the nightbirds in. Remember when they played oldies in the foils of our teeth? Cohen's I have tried in my way to be free. Anyway, the dog is locked and house relaxed. Tonight, cast-iron frame, I’ll forgive your architect for rusting in me.
The light is too long for a good cry cooking something hearty. A stab at carrots squirming under my dull knife on a dim board. I'll surely stub my toe dancing to minestrone. But a singer would like it here. The first snow in the mountains behind us like a sound booth blanket. A woman of the canyon could echo last chance lost off the city. Gifts from the mall didn't make it past the boot pile. How do they make paper bags feel as satin as caterpillar skin? The green ones I let overtake the tomatoes last spring. Did I mention I’ve been getting better at pruning suckers? That's the middle age in me. More than news I read about insects above us amassed in billions. Puts a lot of pressure on us asthmatic vegetarians. We're just as much bats as bats which makes me wonder if we have sonar. And how much an ear infection weighs. They feel heavy and soggy. We should stock up on water for the big one. A few Fourth of Julys ago—is that when my instinct was to hold up the shaking shelf? No wait, it was the nearby fire. No no, that can't be right. We'll need to spend the morning at the varnishing table to set these dates straight. I’ll go out barefoot and you won't let me admit the dog likes licking our dirty feet. Still, we'll be out there breathing mosquitoes and everybody's addictions. I’m not the invited type.
Oh look, a nervous northern flicker is lighting on the pond rim. Looks like it's wearing a caution-orange cap. What's it doing out at dusk? Can't it see the light is getting too dim for the knife to trust the carrot? Once in light like this I took the tip of my finger off with a potato peeler. They made me sit in the waiting room with my hand raised above my head. Yes, I have questions. That was years ago now and somehow it all came back together. Figurement should be a word for all these little changes. All these bonds formed from the spaces between spaces. And here comes the moon.
Stripping for the eclipse, I notice more wear. A forgiven pesky sweater thread. Don't pull or you'll unravel the whole thing. Wooling yarn back to the lambs. Untangling speaker wires felting drive-throughs. Releasing strips of foggy blueprints. There's a coastline hiding behind there somewhere. Until then, mediocre is the middle mustard. The standard red and yellow of it all. There's not a car today I'd save in a jar. Not a single greasy joy I'd tear through traffic for. Not just burgers, but eggs and pills and liquor. We only need two baggy sweaters for winter. That gives my stomach permission for a naked picnic. Like when docents turn the corner and I rejoin my favorite picture.
Some friends will tell you what to wear to the surprise party they're throwing you off the cliff. I'm the kind of cartoon parachute landing like a drip from a stick. The warm sentimental rise they expect out of me is hanging from a bad baguette. Bloodlets the roof of my mouth. So I'll be dangling my feet in this midnight garden like bread dunking soup. Leave me alone if you don't want cream of mushroom toes. The tangling vines around me are ripe with inevitabilities. It's just me and the birds and the squashes. Steaming in our naked picnic and turning pumpkin like a midnight. Did I mention the floor of my childhood library was made of glass? Yes, you could slipper across it and never come back. Oh, I can't see the spreadsheet of a single parking lot.