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 booze
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.

Counterattacks.

Even now, the snow
on the side of the road

has turned to the color
of my childhood.
Jonathan Witte Nov 2017
We are watching the clouds
bandage an incarnadine sky,

we are practicing our best knots,
weaving an army of tourniquets,

we are slow-dancing
barefoot on the edge
of a razor.

We are watching
a demolition derby
in the driving rain,

the smell of motor oil
mixing with gasoline,

the hard melancholy
of dying machines.

We are waltzing from room to room,
smearing our names on the floor,

we are keeping time to slow music,
bleeding out behind closed doors.
Jonathan Witte Sep 2017
She left me with nothing but math.

Bedroom walls miscalculated
to the color of a bruised plum.

Moonwhite sheets tangled
into isolated geometries.

Her pillow, the sum
of broken equations.

Moonlight proves
distance by degrees:

light slanting
in the hallway;

the acute angles
of an open door.
Jonathan Witte Aug 2017
Mothers crawl home on all fours
and fathers crack their hammers
into the temples of the moon.

The dogs are long gone.

The children of catastrophe
flick their knives at the sun,

shuffling from ruin to ruin
in their parents’ heavy boots,

stepping over the skeletons
of buildings and hummingbirds.

The children of catastrophe whet
their blades on the skulls of childhood.

They shave their heads
and argue about the history
of chandeliers and ballrooms.

The frogs at the water’s edge
expand into dumb balloons.

Hunted by an army of hollow men,
we race toward the sound of a dog
barking at the edge of the world.

We sleep in shifts,
cursing moonlight.

In our dreams,
the horizon binds us
with a blinding flash—

your hand in mine,
our cells married
and incandescent:

each to each,
ash to ash.
Jonathan Witte Jul 2017
A close read
reveals that
I am nothing
but a rough draft
riddled with
misspellings—

a work in progress
watered down by
superfluous adjectives,
non sequiturs, and
smothered verbs.

Love is an editor.

She courts me
with a pocket of
sharpened pencils,
blue and red.

She marks me
up meticulously—
dele, stet
dele, stet.

Decades punctuated
by intermittent edits.

Sunlight slanting
through an hourglass.

Her hair as white
as the final page.

When the end comes,
will she love me enough
to give me another pass?
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