Six Poems by John Sweet


words like black blood from the frozen ground: a psalm

and twenty years later
you still dream of
your childhood house on fire

you turn to me for all of
the things i can no longer give you

the names of streets or of
old lovers or
the reassuring weight of lies

and everything we breathe is poison
because there are no other choices

are only dead trees lining the
edges of empty fields
and then the town i grew up in
with its stench of dead factories
and desperate bars

and somewhere in this poem
there is an afternoon of
blinding sunlight without heat

the sound of engines
grinding hopelessly against
a sky-blue sky

the shadows of hills crawling
towards highways

and what i forget in august is
the broken glass pain of december

the feeling of skin cracked and
peeling away from the bone

the taste of road salt
smeared across any flesh i
might hope to kiss

nothing built on
the ashes of your past


man drowning in a second story room

sunlight in january
but no shadows

a young boy
left to die in a locked room

i speak of this too often
i know
but can't shake the image

can do nothing but
spit on the idea of god
and listen to my son's quiet breathing
as he sleeps beside me

and i have walked away
from all of my friends
or they have walked away from
whoever i was at the time

i have spent too many hours
reading atwood's morning in the burned house
in the darkening light of early evening with
all of my small bitter possessions
gathered tight around me

"we make noise for a reason"
i say
but quietly
and april kisses my forehead

she understands how easily
leads to desperation


holy poem, after the death of god

snow all afternoon but
nothing is made beautiful

no one is considered holy

at some point
the last city is built
and then there is only slow decay

sons are shot and
daughters raped and all of
the missing are given names

and some of them come home
while others are martyred
and there is always the threat of
another religion

of the crippled
leading the blind and
of a war that everyone can
believe in

a way to kill only the
truly deserving

how much of your life are
you willing to waste
making these decisions?


not the dream, but everything that comes after

sunday afternoon as
grey as the bones of christ
while the burning girl's
bones grow cold

while the sidewalks crawl
to the edge of town and then
all of the names for whatever
lies beyond

all of the ways love
might turn to violence

and i've given you the myth
a hundred times now
and what you're hungry for is
the truth

the reason a person
might open their mouth
then burst into flames and
all i can show you is
how easily an extended hand
becomes a fist

can you picture a man
chained to the back of a truck
then dragged to his death?

do you remember the
two young boys left to drown
while their mother

i offer you nothing
in place of your god

show me where
there's any difference


the blood factory, revisited

or maybe
the failure is mine

maybe the words
are only words and
exist without blame and
maybe none of the battered wives
give a shit about poetry

this needs to be


the girl on fire tells you what she knows about love

which isn't much

when written down
looks like a blank sheet of paper

like a prayer offered up to
a god who isn't there

the ideas
of religion and brutality

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