Riding with the Ghost

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Are you prepared? my mother says,
shelving canned beans in our fallout shelter. ​​

The racks are full of toilet paper and gunpowder,
one to wipe our asses before ascending into heaven,

the other to blow the head off whatever else crawls out
from the grave. I could’ve gone out with friends

and drunk whiskey in a field, gotten laid,
but I helped my father board up the windows

to the storage shed. We spray painted the doorjambs red
in case the Holy Ghost couldn’t find us. I’d rather see Christ

pick his teeth with a sword than watch him pass judgment
on this computer glitch. My mother flips through her testament,

looking for a secret to keep us safe in these last seconds.
The midnight hour comes upon us with an explosion

of fireworks that tears across the curtain of sky.
My father snores in the easy chair with a pistol in his lap.

I slip out the back door into a world
changed by snowfall, yard like a new promise.

Long Before You Know What Love Means

You sleep under bridges for the hell of it
and drink with the vets at the river,
who got kicked out of the Jesus house.

Warmed by the fire from a burning trash can,
you pretend to be broken-down, think it good
to learn from that company of misfit men.

You ward off the news of your brother, who traded
freedom for a jumpsuit at the county jail. You spend
long nights busking in the rain for money.

Before sleep will come, you hear the frightened
mumbling of the men with ticking dreams
that keep riddling them into the nightmare sun.

You can’t make out what any of the graffiti say,
splayed up code on concrete. If only a secret
rested in the writing on the wall for kings such as these.

Riding with the Ghost

-for Jason Molina

I did whatever it told me, I drank
that wine down like sweet poison.
I walked the empty park all night
and tried to weep the Lord into being.
The only answer I receive—a call
from a wife left at home who says
The pills, I know it’s just the pills.

But I didn’t want to sleep on the floor.
When I heard the slam, the lock click,
I pissed beneath a stairwell, turned
my collar up to the cold damp wind.
Dodging the cop’s lights, I huddled
in shadow underneath the oaks, mud
on the sole of my slick dress shoes.

Tonight, I see a road brushed in starlight
that leads to a home I won’t return to.
I hang my necktie on a branch. Rain shifts
across the asphalt like new fallen ash.
Oh, ghost on high in the great dark trees,
come down, scrub my coward heart clean.

I’ve searched for so many ways to die.

Blackout, Late Summer

It’s midnight, the heat
of Mississippi just now
bowing low near the bed.

I light a candle, listen
to dirt daubers scratch
the woodwork, imagine

their thin, small bodies
patching pipe organ nests.
What a small symphony

these insects pull down
from the rafters like black
violins to hum the veiled dark.

I’ve seen the work they’ve laid
out while I slept, knocked down
the dirt pocked high with a broom

or a hose. I hold the candle
up, watch them dart and let ​​​
the wick burn down low.

I think of my wife in bed,
her body laced in moonlight.
She twists the cigarette, blows

a plume of smoke that blooms
in the ceiling fan. How swift
the procession at night. Here,

the language of lying down,
every hand left wanting,
a bed, a spirit, a home.

Moon Over Sonoma County

The woman you love
waits in the orchard.

She says, Pour another
glass of wine for me.

You look to the sky,
thick as the bright sea

can only think to ask:
why has the rain left?

Moon, you are not mine
to have but to behold.

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