tourniquet heart

early morning cold
spring sunlight yr sister
dragged through town by yr
mother’s boyfriend and one of them
laughing and one of them

shadows of silent buildings and
dying trees and you were
15 when you escaped

i was 22 when i
turned my back on suicide

was 35 when i got yr letter

told me you didn’t
hate me anymore and that
the ocean was warm

that the drugs made
everything that much more real

asked when i was coming out
to visit and what could
i do but lie?

whose blood could i write
an answer in but my own?

told you what you wanted
to hear, then buried
myself beneath the vastness of
the slowly spinning sky

why nothing else matters

in the slow truth of broken afternoons,
waiting for warmth,
waiting for sunlight or at least for the names of
my children to be returned to me

and are you a believer?

have you learned to embrace
the politics of ignorance?

picture this

a sunday afternoon somewhere in the
first few weeks of autumn

a dying factory town
further upstate

and no one here
speaks of de chirico, but his
ghost is everywhere

no one speaks of cobain, but we all wear
the $5 t-shirts we bought at walmart

we turn 30 then 40 then 50 and
some of us fade but
none of us ever quite disappear

some of us stand down by the river
waiting for the bones of
slaughtered indians to wash ashore, and
do you understand why all pain is funny?


it’s okay to hate your government

it’s okay to hate your parents

odds are, they were never that crazy
about you, either, and no you’ve got this
house you can’t afford and this
job you can’t stand

you had friends at some point,
but those days are gone, and by noon the
whole landscape has been painted
over in shades of grey

powerlines and cell phone towers and
all those potholed roads that do
nothing but turn back on

you arrive again
even as you leave

you are more or less human

it’s normal to feel a
little bit sick when you
finally learn this

no fear, only the absence of joy

slow bleeding in a cold room and
he’s the same age as you

he’s a father and a son and
a believer in the age of miracles but
the age of miracles is gone

the west coast is a fading dream

all those saints and angels waiting
for the last house to fall or
the needle to hit bone

all those death row inmates
laughing at
the idea of salvation

tell her you don’t believe in murder but
what about all of those
people you’d love to see dead?

think about the ocean
as it begins to rain

two half-truths are a start but
the map still needs a key

the desert means something
different to each of us

tell him this and he turns away

a clock on every wall and they
all give different times

it’s like some definition of
god that finally makes sense

a cold spring afternoon in the world of darker truths

a flag and
the shadow of a flag
and everything in between

the smell of burning and the
sound of dirt falling on coffins
and all of my selfish reasons
for wanting to live

all of these houses wrapped tight like
shrouds around all of these breathing ghosts

and if i find you in the room of empty chairs
and you turn to me and smile
i will call it faith

if you give me the burning girl’s name
i will hold it like the beating heart of christ

this is love

this is the sound the springtime sky
would make if it could sing

and if you can’t forget the war
then at least forget the fact
that children are dying

forget the fact that they are taken
from their homes by men
they’ve known their entire lives
and found four days later in
shallow graves at the desert’s edge

i’ve been told it can
be done

i’ve been told
that brutality is inevitable

this much
i think i believe

the news arrives nailed to the corpse of the messenger

shape of god fills the sky with its
absence on the drive to work,
no color and no light,
six a.m.,
threat of rain or of snow and
the news of war, of the
neverending massacres of sleeping children,
some fucker with a semi-automatic who
never has the balls to just kill himself,
some grey-skinned priest with his
teeth filed down to points, his
hands down the pants of the false king,
false king with the shit of the fear mongers
smeared across his lips, and what
exactly are you a believer in and
to what extent will you be
killed for it?

seems like history has
always favored the enemy

John Sweet is a firm believer in writing as catharsis, and in the continuous search for an unattainable and constantly evolving absolute truth. His latest poetry collections include A FLAG ON FIRE IS A SONG OF HOPE (2019 Scars Publications) and A DEAD MAN, EITHER WAY (2020 Kung Fu Treachery Press).