Alex Chertok

To Rick Springfield

At the chorus, Rick Springfield, your smile fades to dark
like a chime’s last note in air.

Are you dreaming of saying goodbye?
its beautiful molting? of our small crushes
that die the way skin sloughs or basil bolts: quietly
and from too much ripeness?

You sing her name again, the one you’ve sung
and sung without saying once.
We know it only as possessed. Like you,
drawn strictly to the taken, the turned away.

Surely a new man’s girl has sunk her tusk
into your battered melon by now.

Surely wanting without being wanted back
won’t last this long. The holding out,
over and over. The holding on, and in.

Your eyes stay shut
like the mouth of a child who’s practiced his signature and grown
tired of the arabesques.

At the verse’s G A D, our hands go up.
You don’t mistake this for worship.
A one woe wonder moaning
out of a worn sound hole knows what we hold:

our own Jessies, our own meting out hurt to the air
in lieu of tasting the wanted body’s
unnameable mouth. This room’s hearts are all moot.
We’ll never find love in this song.

Those first three chords give away
your loneliness like a gift of healing.
What does it look like, behind all that smoke
and light, to be given back ours?



The couple fights

Our silence was too bright,
I had to turn away out the window
into the milky evening, half-blue and bottled,
at a passing field of late summer sunflowers,
who couldn’t bear to look in either.
Just then the song we called ours came on.
We knew it by such heart
we hardly heard it anymore, it was ours, we’d held it
innumerably in our mouths, but here
it sounded like the thrum we imagined it was
before we first listened the life into it. Here
the snare drums bared their gritted teeth against the track.
Who can say whose anger this was? It was small
and ours, it was nothing. It was a silence
from earlier in the night, from not listening.
It was from four years before
when our two blisses clashed
and kept trying to cleave their solitudes at once.
The car was tuneless as the drip-feed of the moon.
A deer dipped its head to lap it up off the center line
and our headlights sheared its flank.
We braked and skidded to the shoulder and nearly
into a ditch where who knows how many shredded truck tires
masquerading as roadkill hid, dreaming of flight.
She put the car in park, headlights off, then engine, and
in the new darkness that a deer narrowly missed can make,
our hands touched. It was what the sunflowers wanted
all along. Who can say who reached for whom.
The deer was rearview and whole.
Clash and cleave went our fingers through each other’s.
We were miles from home, we were miles
and miles in the making.



Walking my dog at night

She limps out of sleep into the leash.
Sweet Dove. Lovey Dovey.
Take me to the fondling of glass bottles before recycling day.
Two trees rubbing against each other in the cold wind, moaning
like a fiddle the wood wants to sing like.
12 years we get with her, then what.
Her frozen turds on the lawn and all the negative
earthworms of her piss through snow negated by the first warm snap.
Puke stain on rug, stray black hairs, chew toy’s billowy guts.
A deer’s slick billowless ones on the side of the road.
Her yearning there, me pulling back.
Flying Falconet. Girl from the racetrack
to whom a gust of leaves is a field of squirrels.
Rescued but still there, you can tell, in her flinch
at the slit throat of the dropped cup or cellophane pulled.
To never know stairs, never carpet, and now to be climbing
this small hill toward Cassiopeia.
The taut leash of looking up at the stars.
Me pulling back. Her leading me there, toward
the tinseled sound of that big unflinching.
My breath waits for the flashlight to spot it
before it billows into a cloud of my own body’s weather.
When the weak lamppost’s light goes out,
the darkness comes to.
She turns toward home and takes me there.
At your pace, Dove. Without whom
I wouldn’t know the night.
Her bent ear of this constellation, her hare-footed pawprint
of that one, visible only by looking at a distance near it.
Her remains in the sky’s unclean, in its star spillage.
Then she licks my hand to earth.



Alex Chertok has work published in The Kenyon Review Online, The Missouri Review, The Cincinnati Review, Third Coast, Copper Nickel, and Best New Poets 2016, among others. He has an essay on teaching inside a maximum-security prison in the summer 2019 issue of Ploughshares. He was runner-up in the North American Review’s 2019 James Hearst Poetry Prize, and second runner-up in the 2019 Spoon River Poetry Review Editors’ Prize Contest. He currently teaches at Ithaca College and through the Cornell Prison Education Program.