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Jonathan Witte Oct 2018
(after Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod Evening)

The light is everything;
it makes a godly sound

spilling through
the locust grove,

washing over
uncut grass,


baptizing husband
and wife in oblivion.

Melancholy blinks
like the black eye
of a whippoorwill.

Who catches the
notes of its song?

Only the dog.

Dusk, patient
as a chrysalis.

They can’t hear
the transmutation
yet, but they will.
Here's a link to the painting, in case you want to check it out:
Jonathan Witte Oct 2018
Evening docks
like a desolate ship,
indigo and monolithic,

its umbral sails
swelling above
the distant hips of
a titanic continent.

Sleep tastes like a mossy anchor;
it lurches, shifts, and slips into gear—
the sound of stars grinding on stars.

I sail across an ocean of teeth.

I acquiesce. I drown

in the velvet
whirlpool of
your absence.
Jonathan Witte Oct 2018
What am I supposed to tell
the children when they bring
their deformed beasts to me?

I teach them the word menagerie as
they clear the project table and sweep
up cuttings from the kitchen floor.

We gather without you for another
slow parade of meticulously made
animals, and I’m embarrassed to
mistake their swans for butterflies.

The sky aligns edge to edge,
a yellow sheet of cellophane,
the afternoon cut and creased
and folded like fractal creature:
a crane inside
a crane inside
a crane.
Jonathan Witte Sep 2018
I stole my brother’s car and drove to Phoenix in the dark. Bluegreen glow of dashboard gauges, the faint scent of roadkill and desert marigolds. Tap. Tap. Tap. Insects slapping the windshield like rain. How many miles does it take to turn yourself around, to rise up from ashes? Keep driving. Drive until the sun blooms.

Some days were more dire than others. CCTV footage confirms I pawned a shotgun, a Gibson guitar, and my wife’s engagement ring at the pawnshop next to Fatty’s Tattoo parlor. The typographically accurate Declaration of Independence inscribed on my back also confirms this.

I ran the tilt-a-whirl at the Ashtabula county fair, fattening up on fried Oreos and elephant ears, flirting behind tent ***** with the cute contortionist with strawberry-blonde hair.

I derailed in a dive bar.

I disappeared in a city lit by lavender streetlights, where buildings blotted out the stars and the traffic signals kept perfect time.
I picked through trash bins. I paid for love with drugstore wine.

I closed my eyes on a mountain road. The sheriff extracted me from a ****** snowbank.

I holed up for weeks in an oceanfront motel, dazed by the roar of the breakers. Each morning I drew back the curtains and lost myself in the crisscrossing patterns of whitecaps, the synchronous flight of sanderlings above the dunes. I dreamed of dead horseshoe ***** rolling in with the tide.

The moon over my shoulder tightened into focus like a prison spotlight. One night the barking dogs undid me. Goodnight, children. Goodbye, my love. I capitulated to the candor of a naked mattress. I grew my beard, an insomniac in a jail cell clinging to bars the color of a morning dove.

I coveted the house keys of strangers.

I opened and closed many doors. I sang into the stoic mouths of storm drains. I stepped out of many rooms only to find myself in the room I just left. Despite all my leaving, I remained.
Jonathan Witte Jan 2018
I should have known
the time would come.

The kitchen window frames
a broken braid of winter birds—
feathered flecks above the trees,
flat against an anvil of sky.

We have until morning
to finish it all: the jigsaw
puzzle on the coffee table,
the dishes soaking in the sink,
the bottle half-drunk between us.

We could tiptoe
to our daughter’s
room and watch
the moonlight glide
from wall to wall
in geologic time.

But a column of snow is filling
the hole in the roof of the barn,

and the lantern in the sleeping
porch is almost out of fuel.

I would take your hand,
but every path leads
to the black willow
at edge of the river,
uprooted and
draped in ice.

I could take your hand,
but I know the ground
outside is too hard
to dig, and we have
so much left to bury.
Jonathan Witte Dec 2017
We don’t dance here anymore.

We balance on wobbly stools
and order PBRs with whiskey backs,
sidestepping the looks we tend to give
each other in the mirror behind the bar.

Tonight is Christmas Eve again.
Again, tonight is Christmas Eve.

Reflected in a frosted window
framed by multicolored lights,
our waitress wears a miniskirt
and candy cane-striped tights.

Her laugh rings like the silver
bell of tomorrow’s hangover.

We are not the ones racking
another game of eight-ball
or feeding the jukebox or
tossing darts at the wall.

That’s not us, the hipster couple
exchanging sardonic repartee,
clever tattoos comingling as
they trade kisses in the corner.

Could that ever have been us?

Here is where we *****
it up and tamp it down.

Here is where we wait
for our future to finish
its careful unwrapping.

Here is where we say
thank you and drown,

tangled together in
ribbons of twilight.
Jonathan Witte Nov 2017
Burnt toast and
a spot of blood.

Father dresses for work
and leaves with a wave,
his gabardine suit
the exact same shade
as the storm cloud blooming
on the back of his left hand.

After breakfast, mother pins
his undershirts to the wash line,
clothespins clenched
between broken teeth.

From my upstairs window,
I watch his shirts stiffening
in the flinty December air,
a chorus of white flags,
obsequious and clean.

Mother recovers in the laundry room,
where the floor is dusted with feeble
grains of spilled detergent.

I spend the afternoon
preparing for the sound
of tires crunching on gravel,
for the sweep of headlights
across the lawn.

There are plans
and maneuvers
to arrange.


Even now, the snow
on the side of the road

has turned to the color
of my childhood.
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