The day I learn my grandfather is dying
I bought a brush made with boar bristles
because my hair is long,
it tangles in knots and breaks.
My grandfather is dying,
his medicine is experimental,
and costs eleven thousand dollars
a bottle. Its side effects include
intestinal bleeding and platelet loss.
Life is a venn diagram
in which the circles slowly converge
and the overlapping space
is reserved for death.
All the birds want to be rock stars,
they sing and sing,
they line up like musical notes
transcribed on telephone lines.
It’s a silent song
because no one feels the rage,
and my grandfather continues to die.
When one circle remains
he will be whole again
and moved to intersect
with other circles
in another diagram,
his memories gone.
His shoulders carry the ark
of his wife’s death,
falling asleep sitting up,
he dreams of her voice
drifting in through the windows.
His cancer grows and recedes
like a time lapsed rose
or a breathing lung.
Slowly, he accepts his loneliness,
in remission he continues to die.
He sells the house, auctions away
every precious artifact
as if dismantling a bomb,
the dolls with vacant eyes,
the painted Elvis plates.
He gave me a broken record player
for my birthday.
He said I looked like a girl.
His silence taught me
to listen for the secret songs
the birds want desperately to share
with the living.
It’s a quiet that continues to grow
like the blank space
eclipsing his body
I’m tired of elegies
Tragedy loses its shock value
faster than blood rinsed
from the pavement. Grief kept
on speed dial. Identity reduced
to a catch phrase, religion wrapped
in a shell casing.
Fire all the weathermen.
Trust the neighbors
like you trust
the nightly news,
or the police.
Death, such a boring inevitability,
it has a soundtrack with horns,
it smells like new money.
Carry a stick of chalk,
to trace yourself where you stop.
Listen to the sirens grow
Every parking lot empty,
From the airport to the resort it’s nothing but shacks. Faded graffiti and gang signs.
They greet us with reggae music, strummed strings and smacked drum, a drink on ice.
Stone houses stand halffinished, like fossilized insect giants, wireframed
antennae. We get lost in the kingsized bed, swat sleepily at mosquitos, drunk and sunburned.
Single room homes of rusty sheet metal walls. They carry goods in black plastic bags, no shoes. The salt water air eats at the faux luxury veneer, the smiles made of wood, dirty forks.
There’s a stark absence of road kill. Ghosts selling fruit and drugs from tattered tents.
In the hotel, I watch a documentary about seagulls swallowing bottle caps. I cry.
He carves our initials into the elephant for an extra tip, no problem. Thin, bone hands.
On the bus, a woman says she gets anxiety driving her Maserati. She doesn’t look outside
Fast food dream
In the morning, I brushed my teeth
with a crinkle cut french fry,
the salt like sandpaper grit
on my tender pink gums.
My blood tasted like
and I knew why my grandmother
called me such a sweet boy.
I showered in lemonlime soda,
smothered in effervescent citrus
that bubbled and foamed
and washed away my sweat,
leaving me fresh, yet sticky,
like a wad of chewed bubble gum,
molded into a human shape
and left out in the sun
for the birds to stick their beaks in.
I combed my hair with
the jaw bone of a calf,
clothed myself in the skins
of dead movie stars,
looked at the world
through Coke bottle bottoms.
At night, when I slept,
I crawled into a hamburger bun,
where I waited for the world
to chew me into cud
the birds could consume
Don’t Digitize Me
My music comes from strings,
from wood, steel, ivory,
hollows meant to amplify sound.
It comes from fingers numbed
and nimble, notes recorded
in the muscle memory
of knuckle and palm,
a whorl pattern of blues.
My music is not programmed,
it is lived, a singalong
of tragedy and triumph,
of excess and regress,
of feelings that still need
words invented for description.
My voice will not be autotuned,
will not be perfected by machines
without ears, will not be changed
by robots oblivious to the beauty
of Judy Garland’s sadness.
My voice comes from the raw places,
places without skin, places science
has yet to dissect. It swells and breaks
like an ocean against cliffs
of rib and tongue. Speaks the guttural
truth of rage and agonies
only felt to most like a coat
made of storms.
My song won’t fit on a flash drive,
won’t be available on iTunes,
won’t come up on “shuffle.”
My song has to be heard
in the context of the moment,
has to be consumed
like a breath full of smoke,
has to be pulled from the grooved
wrinkles in the brain
by the needle of experience.
I am not an mp3.
I am not a file.
I, am the lost sound of nuance.
Jay Sizemore brought the high-five out of retirement. He still sings Ryan Adams songs in the shower. Sometimes, he massages his wife’s feet. His work has appeared online and in print with magazines such as Rattle, Prick of the Spindle, Revolution John, Menacing Hedge, and Still: The Journal. He’s never won an award. Currently, he lives in Nashville, TN, home of the death of modern music. His chapbook Father Figures is available on Amazon.
Photo: Todd Quackenbush