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Ok, you didn't need to break something.
When people come into this china shop,
they tiptoe around, they oo and they aa,
and then when they walk out, they slam the door.
I spend my whole life sweeping up the glass,
rethreading crystals onto chandeliers,
trying to crazy glue the porcelain,
telling myself that it was just an accident,
and I'll crawl around and find all the gears
to reassemble the two grandfather clocks,
which maybe needed cleaning, and then I'll
fix the doorknob, which didn't even lock.
Tomorrow, I can reattach the sign.*

* This sonnet was banned from YouTube. Read more at PEN or The Believer.




I'm not mad, beautiful, that would be
like blaming the sun for casting shadows,
like cursing the ocean with a threat of rain.
The worst gift of sin is hypocrisy.
The better gift is stinging forgiveness,
like the peckings of pigeons in vomit,
because wrong to wrong, all of us are leaders.
A few more hours of my silence—
you won't be bothered to think about it.
And why should you?  There isn't any we.
But that look of yours hurled me from heaven,
me, who for your grace trades to live below,
who for a glimpse of sky, lives in the sea.    




I might have a present for you, this time.

All gifts are lies.  But I don't think you'd want
for me to come here with nothing for you,
with nothing when I've already given,
when you've seen the somethings stuck in my teeth,
when, well, really, it goes without saying
that, well, I think we both know I'd be right
to point out that we don't need a story,
that the songs we know are the songs we sing,
that this for you is—well, yes, agreed then.

So what, you can guess what I have for you.
All the better the surprise, because
the biggest present is the biggest lie.




Applebees and a strip club, all for free.
Isn't that heaven to us, old friend?
Old friend, who stood with me at the divide, 
knowing, just briefly, they were just one cliff,
just one crashing chasm of heels and jeans,
and decades, and children who understand.
The children can forgive, unlike the man
who saw the face of Satan in his spleen,
smiling, sanguine, exposed in his white ribs.
If it's not right, what then?  If it's not right,
what then?  If it's not right, what then?  What then?
Heaven is a strip club and Applebees,
and it's all for free, my friend, all for free.




All I really want to do is stab people.
Once, I got a chance to do it.
But the guy kept trying to get away,
and I'd stab him where he was moving.
He'd reach out a hand, a foot, I'd stab it.
After a while, he moved less often,
so I stabbed him a few times in the back.
I talked a little about the woman,
but I wasted the opportunity.
It's just an accident to hack, hack, hack.
To stab, stab, stab is intentional, will.

Resort to speculation is a shame,
but the point, I'd suppose, is intention.




She smelled like puke and a bar, and childhood;
where love is a dozen thoughtless handouts,
and old women you don't know ask your name,
and slip you money rotting with perfume,
like your parents are children that left them,
and you're all they have, and they're all you have.

Smiles like that, on the bus down seventh avenue.

She smells like my ex-step-father's girlfriends,
barmaids that laughed like porch paint and bourbon,
and looked at you like you were more of the same.
You and your friends and your miserable hopes.
She'd seen your type before, and wouldn't budge.
They all came into the bar, with a bulge.




Me alone, dear God, in these hills of flesh, making
nothing of something, something of nothing.
Do you hear my prayers?  Or here, do I pray for
nothing for nothing, something for something?
Are there no gifts with heaven's broken promise?
Nothing to something, something to nothing.
A ribbon in wind, this motherless aching.  
Nothing no something no something no nothing.  
I am tidal need, and break-water spray.
Know something, nothing: a know-nothing something.
A minute abyss of bleavenly hiss.  
Some know know-nothing.  No, some no knowing.

We dear know God, no Godless know nots.
We dear, no God, know Godless, know naught. 



20 (John John)

John John automaton, born to never, 
never learn. John John automaton, born
to never never learn. Born to ever 
ever urn.  Born to burn and born to scorn.

John John automaton, got nothing,
nothing, nothing done. John John automat,
nothing winning, always spinning spinning
spinning. John-a-folds his wrinkles flat.

John John automatic. Panic panic
panic panic. Needs to needs to needs to naught.
Needs machined, by house mechanic.
John-O-John, ought-to-John on auto ought.*

* This sonnet was banned from YouTube. Read more at PEN or The Believer.




Sad, alone, she is reaching for the world
with the mist of her breath on the window.
She wears a double string of tarnished pearls
and her wan eyes are punctured by sinkholes. 
She flies first class to Rome and Venice,
summers with vintners in Napa Valley,
vacations from thought in Los Angeles,
and hops the first copter back to the city.
She's nimble at the net, and reads sonnets,
and pretends there is youth in my stubble,
and writes of corsets like a baroness,
and can pluck a rare bloom from the rubble.

All of it lies, but what does it matter?
Poor boys like me are easy to flatter. 


John Reed

JOHN REED is the author of A Still Small VoiceThe WholeSnowball's ChanceAll The World's A Grave: A New Play By William Shakespeare, and  Tales of Woe (MTV Press).   More at


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2014

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