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This white cotton shirt
Needs a needle

Two teeth in my jaw
Some novocaine

Three thoughts
Up in a corner
Of my skull
Need a day or two of sleep

Of my friends
Are in jail
Their scribbled letters keep repeating
I need drugs

Someone is lying
But my lie works best
Stare out the window
And count the thorns
On the frozen rose bush

The exact number
Of rose blossoms
To appear
In the entire month of May
Keep waiting


Same Light


Made the dog
Jump at the hearse

The holy water
As it boiled against the incense

Made the letters
On the granite tablet
Identical to my name
Both my brown eyes



Apple wine
From a peanut butter jar

I watch a gust
Of apple blossom petals
Pink to red

Flutter into
Brown furrows
Of a small field
I just roto-tilled

I don’t usually
Think about
Or see much
Of the interior
Of my skull

Here’s a good photo
Of the inside
Of my brain
With its furrows
With its pink & red colors
With its worms crawling just below the surface


My Father Had Just Showed Me

a handmade mud-stained string rosary
 he found at a work site

for the new house he was building
 in South Omaha

and my mother had just snipped off
 a Betty Crocker coupon

from a box of Bisquick for
 “A new set of silver”   I looked

for the first time at my birthday present
 a shaky Boy Scout compass

which I carried to each room on
 both floors of that house

looking out every window
 to learn Saint Cecilia’s Cathedral

lay to the east and the University
 to the west   Since I loved puzzles

I turned the compass over slowly
 to see what was on the other side


This Black & White Photo

Of me as an 8-year old child gnawing
  on  a lemon rind

I remember it well because I stole
  the drink from a table

with that lemon slice inside of it
  Vodka or Gin

A wedding Reception at the Sokol
  In South Omaha

I remember how my knees buckled
  And my head spun

But I didn’t say a word or even look
  Right or left

I had more silence inside me
  Than ever before

I sat calmly in a chair and looked
  At the pretty girls

I was getting ready for high school
  All I needed

Was an indecipherable calculus book
  And the phone numbers

Of several beautiful accomplices
  All with blonde hair

And nothing to do on Friday nights  


John McKernan lives in West Virginia, where he edits ABZ Press.  His most recent book is a selected poems Resurrection of the Dust.  He has published poems in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review,and many other magazines.