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J Arturo Dec 2017
we kissed again below the ski basin.
above everything else.
moving my head, side to side
to catch shimmering glimpses of the city lights
through the aspens at our feet.

I don't know what this is.
how hard you held on, how honestly you cried
with deep breaths and little motions, tired and slow.
and when you got home
shouldered your coat and stepped out into the snow.

and I am sorry it should be like this.
that my face had been dried by the desert november, driving
through dead air at
impossible speeds.

          you are my little sip, for parched lips.

my little breath of fresh air my little hint of
light through thick trees
my little only one night under warm sheets and then
driving south again, into the wind
until january, until summer, until the water runs in the canyons
and every fragile flower fights for rain

(and they never wonder
how deep now to drink.)
Oct 11, 2014
J Arturo Dec 2017
A little bird tried to fly through the screen door and I thought, 'if only there were more air up here'.

The view from the second story deck encompassed miles of low scrub hills, piñon, and was daily growing less hazy as the fires subsided. The little bird was dead. Was not even twitching or rolling or whatever idiot birds do to fight or hold onto life. Or maybe it was unconscious. If it was a head impact, it could just be out cold. I could take it in for a bit, see if it revives. But the brains of birds are very small... maybe not large enough to switch out of consciousness without damaging the whole system. It could wake up brain damaged: amnesic, whistling gibberish, unable to collaborate or co-worm-locate or sit on eggs or whatever other higher functions birds perform. Angry, all the time. Likely a burden and a danger to the community. Condemned to either death or a life of lonely suffering. I'd rather not be culpable for that.

Prospective buyers are arriving at four, the realtor as well, for a tour, so I grabbed a broom and swept the quiet body into the shaggy juniper that surrounded the house. Swept up with maple leaves that had settled on the porch since this time yesterday, together a mass of decomposing matter, under the railing and into the dark.

I'd spent a lot of time alone in the house on Grand. Watched nature slowly creep through the iron fence and into the faux-pond, up under the patio bricks, purple flowered and needley plants growing taller and more hostile daily. Increasing numbers of little brown birds mistaking the reflected sunset in the plate glass doors for real sky.

"If only there were more air up here." A little joke I repeat out loud while sweeping broken bodies into shrubs. The thickest places, where they wouldn’t be seen when (if) someone ever dropped by to view the house.

I don't live here, the house is soon to be foreclosed. But a friend of mine knew I needed a place to stay and offered this, his third home, empty of everything except a coffee maker, some landscaping tools, a few boxes that had yet to be moved. I have a twin sized mattress in what must have been a child's room: a strip of Denver Broncos wallpaper runs the circumference, every other surface painted complimentary blue.

The couple arrived at five. She wears a salmon coloured shawl over a white blouse. They’re performing the theatric act of young couples in love (with the idea of a larger house): she ecstatic over the seven jets in the master Jacuzzi tub, he hesitant about the people-paths in the wall-to-wall-carpet, the everpresent pastels we know were once in vogue but will take weeks and at least two layers of base to fully eradicate. It’s the realtor’s job to showcase the place but I often stand outside the plate glass windows of the living room, keeping an eye. Playing the role of groundskeeper because hitchhiker is so much less glorious.

So far it’s been the same. Always she with a genuine smile that will be gone forty minutes after she’s left the driveway. He, always in t-shirt and “trying to be casual” jacket calculating the square footage of each room, the viability of the fireplace. Opening cabinets, but not concerned with storage space. He wants to see if the brass hinges really have brass pins. Is it wood, linoleum? Look closely at his eyes and watch them dance across a virtual blackboard, adding up the gallons of primer and paint needed to cover up the colour mistakes of a before-his-decade.


You can almost watch his eyes dart across the blackboard. A house is a house but the home must be shredded, burned, before making it yours.

But they all do this. A dozen or so now, this summer. And I spend a lot of time alone. Injecting my thoughts into people who think they know what they need next, before getting in a small car and checking out a properly closer to town. Making little jokes to myself as I sweep the porch. The isolation even maybe altering small parts of my self. The social parts, perhaps. I feel good, most days, but find myself repeating the same phrases: “****. Shower. Shave”, “If only there were more air up here.”, “I could learn to love a leopard”, even recently a little Old Testament, which like a ******* I’ve been taking to bed with increasing frequency and a growing selfish guilt, repeating,

“As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.”

They won’t be back, but for the first time now there’s a deer in the yard. Meaning there must be a hole in the fence. A doe, and fawn too, and I can sit and stare with my broom in hand because my job is to sweep the deck. Dead birds and maybe rats, leaves of course, but with all the water the bank is wasting on this waste of a lawn, come deer: come all ye deer, come and eat. Maybe you will even eat the frighteningly thistly things. Regardless, in exchange for this room I was given a broom and deer are far too large to sweep.

When my student visa expired in Canada I left the country with no identification, five Canadian dollars, a five litre backpack mostly occupied by a camera, and in my mind some distillation of the romanticism from On The Road that I’d managed to power-read in a Heathrow bookstore four years before (lacking the pounds to actually purchase the book). I crossed the border via ferry, and entered the country without identification. I thought this was impossible but it turns out that when you have no time but your whole future ahead of you, and nowhere to get to anyway, insisting “I am a U.S. citizen and you need to let me into this country” does in fact work, if you repeat it enough, and are willing to wait. In my case border patrol even gave me a twenty note and a pat on the back before sending me on my way.

How I ended up sitting on the floor watching birds die, backlit by a desert sunset, in the mountains of New Mexico, is a long story, and to be honest the details have largely escaped me. I do remember I was reading Hemingway. “The Innocents Abroad”, and trying to find myself in any character I could lay my hand on. The word “Innocent” in the title, I suppose, far moreso any actual character, struck the most.

It’s the middle of The Great Recession. Or The Great Depression. The Great Compression. I can’t remember any longer which economic period this particular episode occupied (why can’t they name them more sensibly, like hurricanes?) Call it, then, The Great Introspection, as I narrated myself through the dozen rooms of a million-dollar house: the material self still alive and thriving inside in a self-congratulatory spiral over the personal ROI that left Canada on five dollars and put me, rent free, in a home worth that multiplied 200,000 times. The home where I first had my own key. The home where I learned to drink a glass of water before my morning coffee.

(Five years and $98,000 in college expenses later that was, easily, the best advice I’ve ever received.)

Eventually the phone was disconnected, the water, the power. The jacuzzi, though dry, was still a good place to lie and read. And the piñon and snakes, cacti and juniper, then inklings of pine trees came in steadily. When you would look at them they would freeze. But every morning something new was growing, some new pink flower popped up promisingly to crack the mortar in front of the door. Sweetly at first, then growing thorns, and I walking the perimeters saying “if only there were more air out here”, saying, “can not feel her anymore”, as if the decadent madness of the lawn could be silenced by speaking out loud. Trying to walk the edge of the fence, increasingly losing it in the encroaching bush, then resigning myself to the living room, the **** carpet flattening into a forest path while I impressed miles into that offensive floor.

words. seeds. thistles. marvin morales.

Sleeping on that filthy mattress, the Denver Broncos looking down, still optimistic about their upcoming trophy, or cup. Whatever it was that a bunch of cartoon horses could win. But the sweeping gave me solace, even though the growing thistles made the bricks uneven and caught in the bristles of the broom, leaving little shards of transplanted pink flowers emedded in the yellow polyethylene. I loathed them, but looking back I can see I played straight into their plan. Transplanting little seeds to new weak places in the cement, where they could grow tall again and **** up what little good was left of the land. Bring deer to eat them. Bring little idiot birds to pick the seeds out of the faeces, recycling with pure intent, and flying off into the bright light of sunset. Then crashing broken to the floor.

And like the lawn, like the porch, like what happens when you read Twain, something in me changed. “If only there were more air”, yes, but there is never enough air. Piling up among the deer, among the doe, among my now all-consuming pacing and talking to ghosts who don’t live here anymore, among the many birds who ate their worms and went on to hatch a dozen more, flew into a plate glass sunset, and were ignored.
J Arturo Dec 2017
I am walking on this small and winding path, through a field. We've decided that it's not an important field, it grows nothing. Animals may have eaten here, once, but they aren't right now. And the path seems well travelled. I'm taken back to something, in science class-- maybe. About letting the earth lie fallow, for a season? I'm trying to say that thoughts of tresspassing were furthest from our minds.

Sarah is carying her heavy bag on her back. I've offered to carry it, but Sarah is one of those people who will recognize their own mistakes and deal with them. I am feeling prudent for having brought only my small brown messenger bag. The sun is just setting, we've been walking for most of the day. We are not nature people. There was a lot of time spent in the city, some spent navigating the train network-- the crazy system of connections and missed schedules. Local and express trains, too. I am not one to ever complain. Sarah is content to swim with the current, and I admire her for this.

She asks me, "Do you think we're still going north?"

We are supposed to be somewhere. I would not rather be anywhere than here.

"I am not sure." I say. "I am having a hard time being worried about it."

"Okay.", she says.

The tall plants with purple bells on top are falling apart as we brush past them. It is maybe eight o'clock, but it is summer, and the world smells warm and eager to have us in it. If earth is a mother, she is reading us a bedtime story. I am very sore, conscious of my decision to wear sandals this morning. Sarah is impossible to read, but paint her content. Had a sheep or farmer come up and asked me, I would have said I were falling in love.

Because of this, I want to say something, one of those things that will mean a lot more because it is between the two of us. I am thinking, "There are a lot of stars.", but instead, I say, "Have you wondered why they call it the Test Path?"

"I hadn't really thought much on it. I suppose it could be for a lot of reasons. Or maybe just coincidence? I don't know.", she says.

"I am thinking that it has something to do with cartography.", I say. "Maybe when they were first deciding how the first maps would be put together, they call came out here and mapped this path. Oh! And the Test Creek!"

"What does that have to do with anything?", she asks.

"Well when they had completed it, and all of the backs had been patted, etc, etc, and they'd completed the map of the surrounding area too, perhaps they thought: what will we call that first path and creek? And maybe one of them said, 'It was our first test. Let us just leave it as Test Path and Test Creek'. And so they all exclaimed what a Jolly-Good-Time it was, and went off to do whatever they did in those days, and it's been that way ever since."

"I don't really know what to tell you. I guess it's possible. I wasn't there.", she said.

I am trying to explain myself to the stars, but it's hard to pick just one and stay focused on it. Sarah has light skin. She fits in well amongst the thatched houses and rain. I am darker, and I suspect that people notice it. Hostility has been bred away for generations, here, but I can still feel eyes on me; the outsider. I want to fight these people, each of them, with my fists. I would love the chance to prove myself to them, and be taken into the tribe. Dear watchful ones: I can learn your language, your customs. I am young! Vibrant! Adaptable! But they will hear none of it. Sarah would, I think, fight them too, but she has nothing to prove to them. My attempts to read her leave me thinking she is longing to do something different with herself. She doesn't know what that is. If she did, she might not be here with me. I am both hopeful for her, and wishing she'll fail.

There is supposed to be a monestary around here. We are walking to the left of a deep forest, the creek lies between us. The occasional overturned tree would make a good bridge, but it is dark at this point, and we've decided that the monks would prefer to be left alone. Everything is colorless, but still full of life. At night, in the winter, in the city were we both used to live, everything died. We would sometimes walk along the short paths that lined the escarpment, and I would keep my knife in my hand. I think Sarah understood that it is a dangerous thing to be alive among the dead and dying; one must be careful. She never said anything about it, but Sarah is a poet on occasion, and so I assume she understands most everything. But here, there was noise, life. We come across a patch of ground riddled with holes the size of Coke cans. Deep holes.

"Do you ever wonder what they might be up to down there?", I say.

"I've thought about it, some,", she says, "but I imagine if they did anything really spectacular, we'd have heard about it."

"Did you see that special they aired on one of the science channels? They took some ant colony... in Africa. A certain type of ants. And they flooded the whole underground complex with this watery type of cement--"

"What about the ants? *******."

"Well they all died, I guess. But it's for the sake of science. Anyway. They flooded the whole complex with cement, and it took like... six months to dry. But when it did, they excavated around the whole thing."

"And what was it like?", she says.

"Amazing. I don't remember the statistic. Something like, 'The ants had moved four tons of earth, the eqivalent on a human scale of--' or other. But the point was that these little tiny bugs made this system, hundreds of feet wide and dozens of feet deep. All hidden under a pile of dirt! It was unbelievable!"

"That is pretty cool.", she says.

"Then imagine if these creatures were doing the same thing-- on the same scale. Kilometers of tunnels! Cisterns and cemetaries and maybe even churches, tiny factories, thermonuclear generation stations! All under this field!"

"I think that you give them too much credit. But I don't know. You could be right. Though I think if I were one of those things, I'd be happy just being one of those things, and not get caught up in industrialization and all of that."

And I ask, "Are you happy being one of whatever-you-are?"

We talk like this, for an hour or so. Nothing is really said, but I am secretly hoping that the world is listening to us. There must be sheep here, somewhere, and they will go home and tell their little sheep children about us. I also think about the nature of sound waves. That everything we say is receeding away from us, infinitely, and somewhere out there our words are being rendered into an alien language for a baby's bedtime story. I'm wondering why the greatest thing I hope for in life is to be the words that put someone to sleep.

We stop. It is very late now. The house I'd hoped to get to has not appeared. Though if we ended up going south instead of north, we've only added another day onto our trip. I'm not really concerned though, which is unusual for me. It is warm out, the bugs are singing lullibies. It is dark enough to be private, yet not so dark as to be frightening. We walk off the path, and sit down in the cavity left by the massive root structure of an old-man of a fallen tree. Sarah pulls out her sleeping bag, and I lie down in the grass nearby, and stare up. It is itchy, but I'm oddly not bothered. Not bothered anymore by much. I don't plan to sleep, not for a while. I want to hear Sarah sleeping. I've decided that I want my thoughts to become a bedtime story to her, and I begin to tell them to her, in no real order.

I wanted my words to be a christmas present, boxed and beautiful. Or a chocolate bar. Or something. They come out jambled, as I fall in and out of meter, gesturing at the sky and making grand generalizations. I tell her about my childhood on the farm. About the way my uncle, reaching for a rope in the hay loft, fell and broke his neck three summers back. It was the first time I'd seen a dead body. I tell her about moving to the city. The brick and stone, and my initial fascination at the way things could always be in motion. After a time, she comes to lie next to me, wordlessly, and places her head on my chest.

I am no more now than I have ever been, but I am tied off at the end. I am not in danger of fraying. I won't sleep tonight. I will run through the house, switching off the lights and straightening all of the picture frames, while Sarah is sleeping. This is something I will defend to the death. I will fight off the wolves and gypsies and try my best not to wake her with the slashing motions of my right arm. I am feeling like no one has ever deserved more to rest, and that I will give my life so that she will have it. I kiss, softly, the top of her head. The sheep watch quiety, and hold their children close. This is what it's like to be at rest.
Jan 28, 2009
J Arturo Feb 2017
When the sweat is dry on my brow
I will get up.
I'll be able to focus then better, I think.
The sweat is linked to a general malaise,
where objects drift in double shapes...
Not unpleasantly.
But smarter, I think, to stay. At least,
Let the pupils dilate, and left eye
Recalibrate it's aim.
The salt and sweat malign the eyes,
which either slip too fast past the the target,
or arrive a bit delayed.

You said:
Maybe we'd be happier if we moved on with our lives.
You're seeing something in Iowa that was likely there all along.
And the more I feel like you could slip away
I become more paranoid and afraid.
Wondering now who you're with,
Whether this path ultimately leads to my replace.

Though maybe we both agree, then, with what you said.
I can't hang on to something that long got on a plane and left.
Or try and **** through wires the delusion of a scent,
that dissipates, reductively, with every breath.

Though I will rephrase, in my own way,
the sentiment I think remains:
It would be more prudent to
Let the nose and lungs to rest.

         Let us be ungreedy with breath.

If you move on I will let you pass.
I cannot hold you within me,
And these cavities have not the space.

         But I will taste your color again, perhaps,
         In the wind, a laugh,
         The wet heat of a lovers face.

         I will taste your color again,
         In the wind, a laugh,
         The wet heat of a lovers face.

If you move on I will let you not just pass but
And rebuild a more modest faith:
Just once, to inhale again something like what went.

(And still remember what it meant.)
J Arturo Sep 2016
the sun is hitting the yellow blinds and warming the room.
color temperature, not degrees yet.
someone is laughing in the garden.
we did the first line after swearing not to, but that
was a promise made when we were grumpy, doesn't count.
did the second one because there were two hours left.
did the third because there was one.

when the sun shines it reminds you
this part of the city is full of flowers
but most days they blend into the fray and
no buildings are painted white.
white things don't stay that way.
I even saw a white dog yesterday,
but covered in blue paint.

in two months someone rich will come
recognize either of our potentials
take us away to a seaside estate in
Rio, with no fog, only sun, and
a swimming pool built to mix
seamless with the Pacific Ocean.

they'll pay us to sit and think, put down
the genius obviously in us.

but likely we’ll just drink.
pop pills rail lines and such.
J Arturo Jan 2016

Comes like breath, feeling the distance of
a heart you want, far away and fast asleep.
Pinpricks on light sleeping skin:
a restless stir and then forgotten.

This, a confident prison sonnet, made under
a bed in a black trash bag. Not a sonnet
a poet would construct, but sonnet-like enough
to leave you drunk.

Before last week I’d lose teeth in almost every dream:
Sometimes a front tooth would inexplicably fall away,
requiring expensive surgery:
Synthesizing a piece of plastic
into what was, once, entirely my own face.

Another: opening my mouth to introduce myself,
at some sort of business meeting. Teeth where they should be.
Then unable to speak as hundreds swelled, sprouted, fell
from factory-gums.
Trying to excuse myself to well-clad faceless men,
Blurred doll heads turned to the hostile hole in my face,
Flat planes of skin somehow emanating disgust and shame,
as yellowed little mouth bones spewed endlessly into the room,
and endlessly were replaced.

Months of these dreams built a muscle memory (that
life-affirming twitch we all have when we wake).
Alert suddenly in a cloud of cold sweat,
mouth open with hands clutching my face:
confirming tooth by tooth that each were in place.

I’m told we’re born with a visceral fear
of breaking something we can’t regrow.
She’s been here a week, and I no longer dream of teeth.
But I wake up just the same: wet and cold,
though my mouth is closed,
still reaching mindlessly for something to hold.

Remembering real change and knowing your voice:

That hearts care hard.

But can shift from heavy to sweet, and do so gently,
And do so while asleep.


A song to leave a thousand suns trembling.


Fingertips finally finding means.
Boys congregate, grow dense in your shadow:
always the odd. We, the tasteful insane:
who burn from both ends, so death
might spare us witness to the horrible
torture of slow decomposition, while
broken and weak we watch everyone we’ve
ever loved and all that was once good
grow colourless and succumb to the same slow decay,
until at last we crawl defeated into the grave.

We are selfish: we who want to never know.
We who want to be the first to go.


But your soft wet dreams left a taste that tied
nights to dawn. A single bruise. Window left open.
Someone clearly gone, yet careless with evidence.
In the bathroom, a faint honeysuckle scent.
Too sore, too tired, to comprehend what complex animal
could outdo and subdue, fiercely clawing, and teeth,
then leave such lingering sweetness when it went.

(In the kitchen there was a new vase,
in it a red chansonette: still curled into itself
in the cold of the pre-dawn house.
But as you approached, the rising sun touched
a gap between fence and garden gate,
and light reaching the flower,
like a lover, she stretched her arms to meet the day,
refracting the bright Santa Fe sun,
filling the whole room with the most delicate
red glow.

And then the light was gone. The sun had climbed.

The next morning you raced downstairs but
the angle had changed, no light came through the gate.
It stayed closed, and soon after died.

Chansonette, the flower of faith.

A brilliant and cruel animal,
astronomer and botanist, master of optics,
violent with hands delicate as flower petals.

Chansonette, the flower of faith.

A year later you put a new flower in the old vase,
a pencil mark indicating the exact place.
Started the coffee ***, daylight broke.

And in it came.


I want your futures to be maddeningly
beautiful and terrifying like a wild animal
ready to want to destroy you.


I’ve never seen you make breakfast.
But who am I to say you never make breakfast alone?

Then an unexpected sadness. Probably from lack of sleep.
And then a tear.
And then tearing a poster from the wall
For a concert missed three weeks ago.

God woke and made the flower.
The flower cannot wake and play god.


So strong, finding you lying weak,
longing for anything to fall into place.
Hit by supposed fear, then lust, and
life ****** from impossible lungs.

Born with legs, made to run.
To say.
To breathe.
To cut.
To take the time to count out
each unit of my spine.
To reach, and failing sink
into the slippery brass circles
of the self,
until the hundred metal lines are dry
and the hundred birds, so welcome, lift you back on high.


In focus: a bass-relief. Pale. Coppery.
Found in the British Museum, or similar mausoleum.
Miles of roads running beneath.
Goodbye sentences that may be pretended.
Always I, grasping at a shudder: choking
tremors into quieter worries.
Until later.
Until I can grasp the right point on the spine,
the right vertebrae,
pressing it and the human frame that comes attached
deep into beds always-washed.

Bound now.
Dirt and clothes and everything fake no longer speaking.


A woman with a plan. Running steady stairs.
Wondering how to measure the ache that comes with longing.
Waiting awake, probably loved.
When once given sadness: dried the wide and beating
insignificant sayings, pencilling each
into small red notebooks.
Then silencing the sounds from every hurtful word:
out of the air and onto the page, transformed
into the arbitrary scratches of penlines we call words.

Into the fire with them:
to the fire with regrets.
With the ashes
spring a whole field of Chansonettes

Every line ends in silence.

Build, especially.
Fill great books with great words.
Burn the rest.
In seas of ash, don’t swim: float.

There is a hunger you can’t forget:
it lives in the throat.
J Arturo Nov 2014
En está ciudad los cielos
cuelga debajo de las caras.
hacer riéndo los ojos,
para caminar los olvidados.

Un ***** circulo—
el iris es como una reja gris:
colores eliminar desde ellos sabiendo
que no tienen su propia luz.

Los ojos solo son espejos.
Y la luna direge sin sombra.


In this city the heavens
hang under the faces.
do laughing eyes,
walking the forgotten.

A black circle -
The iris is like a gray fence:
remove colors from them knowing
who do not have their own light.

Eyes are just mirrors.
And the moon direge without shade.
Updated for grammar 28/11
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