The girl in the black
bathing suit swims
through my dreams,

and her orange eyes warn
me that summer is coming.

An inescapable
swelter of air
threads itself
through the slats
of picket fences,

crisping insects
and terrifying
an army of black birds
bivouacked in the trees.

I hear the soft explosion
of hibiscus, red petals as
bright as belly wounds,

and the heartbeat
of the dog panting,
stupefied by the heat
of a relentless star.

Up and down the street,
abandoned children call
out from the bottom of
empty swimming pools.

I slouch in an aluminum chair,
trying to get black-out drunk
on warm gin and tonics.

The tidy rectangle
of grass around me
goes up in a legion
of slender flames.

I remember the dark room
and my father’s deathbed,
his whispered, final words:
dying is thirsty work.

I strip to my underwear
and fantasize about ice.
I pray for the neighborhood
sprinklers to spring to life.

Begin with

a bone,
a heart,
a home—

the pieces

and work
them over

over time

tumble and polish
tumble and polish

make the pain shine.

Jonathan Witte Apr 14

Once you’ve gone
what more is there
to say about leaving

or, for that matter,
the impermanence
of measured words.

All I can do is stand
alone in the backyard
and listen to the wind.

A late frost killed
the magnolia buds

and the forsythia
never materialized.

And so I wait for the worms
to begin their earthy work.

I wait for the pink moon
to rise above the rooftops.

I wait for the smell of mock orange
and the blue of a broken robin’s egg.

But most of all
I wait for your
words to bloom,

to tell me, finally,
that spring is here—

that the gardens we tend to
have something more to say.

The prison bus
passes this way

every now and then,
surfacing without

warning—a leviathan
of metal, grease, and glass

its dark windows secured
by squares of rusted wire

its diesel engine heart
spewing exhaust that

turns morning rain
the color of seawater.

The prison bus
does not stop
for stop signs;

red lights are nothing
but violent memories
strung in an overcast sky.

When the bus strikes
something in its path

the prisoners bounce
slightly in their seats,

lifted into
impartial air


by the familiar
of blood and laughter.

In his dreams,
the guard who
drives the prison bus
circumnavigates the globe,
plowing through clouds
of insects that shimmer
like fuel above the road.

Jonathan Witte Mar 31

My younger brother still fishes
when he can, when the weather
is agreeable, when he can afford
some tackle and beer for the cooler.

He sits alone on the river bank
and smokes and drinks and waits
in the shifting shade of cottonwoods
for the unmistakable pull on the line.

He fishes whether
the fish are biting
or not. He is intimate with
psychology and the placid
deceit of undisturbed water.

My brother is an angry man.

As kids, we fished
together on the dock
and killed them
with our hands.

Careful not to kneel
on scattered hooks,
we baited the lines
on our knees a foot
above brackish water.

We dropped fish heads
off the edge of the dock
and watched them float
down, almost out of sight,
settling into final stillness
only to snap back to life
(or the false throes of death)
by the white claws of crabs
picking them into oblivion—
goodbye eyes,
goodbye gills,
goodbye teeth,
goodbye scales.

Brother, I don’t remember anymore:
was it triumph or merely shame
that left us shivering in the sun?

Jonathan Witte Mar 24

We never cracked the mysteries of Pittsburgh,
and Baltimore bled out inconveniently before

our eyes, another nervous snitch knifed outside
the corner convenience store in broad daylight.

Salt Lake City was too pure, too white,
theocracy carved into a wafer of snow.

We grew tired of watching Los Angeles
pleasure itself in the sun like a porn star,
interminably tan and vacuous.

And Chicago was too fucking cold.

So we settled here, where streets turn
the soles of our shoes to palimpsests

where every apartment elevator
offers a wall of infinite buttons

where grocery stores stock their shelves
with bottles and bottles of octopus ink

where neighbors open their curtains
and stand shimmering in moonlight

where weather mixes with nostalgia,
creating immutable, poetic forecasts

where water tastes like redemption
and the skyline rises like a chorus,

so much taller than the cities
we inhabited when we were


Jonathan Witte Mar 17

Come springtime, when the magnolia
tree exploded in bloom in the backyard
I’d grab the bolt-action .22 from the closet
and call out to my sister to tell her
that after a long winter, it was time.

There were hundreds of them, and for hours
I’d knock those blossoms down while she
darted below the canopy catching every one—
stunned pink birds nesting in her hands.

We never missed, either of us, and when
the bullets and blossoms were gone,
she would laugh and shake the petals
from her hair and brush them from her
bare arms and neck like pastel feathers,
the soft relics of an unexpected snow.

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