Words would only mar
Planets would eclipse the star
Like steam the dream loses shape
Moments after eyes open
The ineffable
Must continue to sleep
Your soul to keep
And trap what you feel
Before the name came
To allow escape
It died when defined
Boxed up and maligned
The smoke laughs
From afar.


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High school

We were a small circle of friends. Sometimes there were three of us, sometimes two. Sometimes and too often it was just me. My sacred text was Star Trek, and in that I was alone. We had our religion, though, and our hymns were Stairway to Heaven and Starship Trooper. We had our black light posters and our incense. We had our Bible studies and told our dirty jokes after. We halfway believed there were demons in our rock albums but that Jesus would save us from them anyway. Anything bad for us we could sleep off. We nodded at the sermons and dipped our toes in nihilism, but we were just posing for effect. We asked all the wrong questions. We never once wondered how quickly those days would pass.


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Sometimes I’m only spinning plates
and sometimes I realize the audience has left
Sometimes I realize I’m only dreaming
and just twirling air, all past lives
just broken bodies in a mass grave
next to the supermarket parking lot.

spinning plates

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When endless nights drag by
leaving your brain puffed with poison
no sleep no sleep no sleep
and your home suddenly has
unknown smells and your
pets don’t know you anymore
and the lamps all move and replaced
things shock and stop
working and everyone you thought
loved you you can see in their
eyes they don’t anymore they
whisper into their phones and
you overhear your name but then
it’s not your name anymore
they smile and tell you everything’s
okay just calm down just relax
just close your eyes no one’s
going to hurt you but then you hear
the knives come out no sleep
no sleep no sleep you find yourself
actually wanting the knives to open
you up so all the poison can
finally leak out


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They wheeled her in,
skin as thin as onion skin,
wasted away to squinting bones,

to view her daughter’s body.
“Just throw a rag over her,” she said,
a lifetime of grievance exhaled.

So sorry, grandmother, to exhume you so,
but you are a lump of coal
and my furnace is cold.

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The last gasp

Then she grabbed my hand and said this:


I leaned in close. Her grip tightened with a strength that hadn’t been there in years.

“Listen,” she said. “Death’s door is small. It is so small that when we go through it shears away everything we think of as real: our bodies, our minds, even our memories. What’s left is nothing but an echo. And then I’ll only exist in your mind, and only in the memories of everyone who knew me. I’ll be clothed in a thousand robes, disguised in a thousand masks of how each one of you saw me. Some will be beautiful, and some will be terrible. Please see me with a smile on my face, because I’ll be there for the rest of your life, and God knows you’ll need a friend.”

Then she let go of my hand, but I was the one who closed my eyes.

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The Houses We Used to Live In


The houses we used to live in
stay in our heads
with attics and basements and dark poisonous closets
all added instead
of warm, cozy memories
and incandescent lightbulbs
the original floor plans, now wrapped in gauze
and the picture of Jesus by the shore
changes and changes and changes more
each time you look away
you don’t know the cause
you can’t stay
not today

The houses we used to live in
are draped in the dark
all hiding the holes and kicked-in walls
the smoke from the spark
other people came
and made their mark
intruders into memories, invaders of the space
safe in closets, in beds, and pressed into paint
the warm, loving face
now scraped and scarred
made ugly with the rape of time
smiles covered with a film of grime
and dead pets

The houses we used to live in
and streets we used to ride
the grass where we parked
worn down and flat, retreating inside
all echoes decayed, the sound delayed
the hands out wide, the pipes all dried
lifeblood and lifeless, smiles unmade
kicked up into dust
and only the bad memories reside
only ashes are found
you don’t use keys, come through the window instead
but at least the screams
are dead

in the canal
you’re gone, you’re gone
from the lake to the ocean, and at last
my jaw relaxes
these scars
are my stars
and I can let you go
and go
it was so brief a violence
I can forgive
I can.

Rob Archer, February 20 and 21, 2016
Photo: “408 Front Bedroom” by Rob Archer, 2014


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