Tuesday, October 22, 2019


Somewhere there’s a revolution, I hear,
Somewhere I used to know...
And here, in a darkening dusk,
In an expanse of grass
Turned purple by the silence,
I turn away...

This is life stripped of excesses:
No one else for days,
Voices all digitized,
The constant hum of a world
Churning itself.
I laugh just because
I miss the sound.

And they come
Seeking life;
They turn them away
Not knowing
It is life they bring.
Tell no one this,
I say it here in confidence,
Throw it to the dustbin of words.

There used to be someone
Who wanted to be great
But forgot—
Where was I?

Ah, yes…

(Originally posted on Sep. 17, 2015)

Friday, September 27, 2019


Here I mourned you,
And now it’s over.

A wall of brushed concrete—
How I hated its birth;
A breeze squeezing its last breath
Through the cracks.
An angel in the mud,
Smiling from below
To a chime that keeps sighing.
Here, on these steps,
With the azure flanking me,
She told me.
Here, in this hallway of a room,
Over salad greens,
I wept.
And there you still hang,
On top,
In the row of the deceased.

I’ve got cat hair all over my sweat,
A furry smile,
And eyes that squint like yours.
I’ve got rooftops aplenty,
And branches to match,
All of magnolias in bloom.
I’ve got skylines to give,
A blue open wide,
And insinuated stars.
Here, at the heel of the world,
I’ve got similes run amuck!
I’ve got graffiti, and Tupperware
Filled with yesterday’s blood.
I’ve got you running in circles
Under my breath.
Here, where you ended,
An immense yawn began,
A treetop, a squirrel, and a humming bee.
Here, in the silence,
You still crumble down the wall
As long as my cat chases ghosts.

(Originally posted on June 16, 2005)

Monday, June 10, 2019


We made of love a prison
To hold us both
Like we couldn't hold each other

We furnished it well
With all the love
We couldn't show one another

And in it we drowned
In a display of domesticity
Born of our fevered dreams

But we ended up forgetting
Where we started
Or what it was all about

(Originally posted on May 21, 2017 )

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Myself to Blame

I only have myself to blame
for you, my victory, my downfall,
my need, my hunger, my flame...

I only have myself to blame,
hoping endlessly, as my mother
waits for my dad, against hope
for you to change,
for you to become
what I want, to be
somebody else...

I only have myself to blame
for this, the burn that is my life,
this lie that I insist on telling,
waiting, against the odds,
for me to become
someone I want...

(Originally posted on May 14, 2013)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

"Autumn Fugue" by Joe Bolton

I remember how the silver leaves fell down,
Extravagantly, as if in prefigured spirals,
From the fig tree you couldn’t keep alive,
And how, when you’d sat watching for a while
That lovely dying, then turned your face to me,
Your face seemed the same silver of the leaves.

It had to do partially, I suppose,
With the light--how the brief and intense dusk
Along 14th Street gathered in the canopy
Of chestnuts choked with vine, filtering
In through the three windows of your white room
To make a luminous lake in which we swam.

Looking all that autumn for a holier way
Of talking about things, you found yourself
Hardly able, at last, to speak at all;
And so, for long moments, no word would pass
Between us, when we had only to listen
To the quarter-hourly noise from a nearby church.

There was something greater to the sadness
Than simply the going away of your lover,
Or even our own past failure at love.
What sadness there was carried with it the weight
Of something intensely formal, and which would not
Be overcome by anything so commonplace

As a gesture shared between the two of us.
And so, as the light faltered and the leaves fell down,
I’d light a cigarette and sip my drink,
And you’d arrange your body at the window
Like some unfinished portrait of yourself. . . .
If there is nothing between a man and a woman

Except the light by which they see each other,
And a past in which they appear continually smaller,
And a future that seems already to have acquired
The irrevocability of the past,
It seems important, nevertheless, to acknowledge
Their brief victory: the surviving it.

- Joe Bolton, from The Last Nostalgia

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

On the Prowl

To Foxy

It's the absence—always the absence—that gets us.
A habit lingering long after, a slip of the tongue,
a look in the direction of what remains...

And the night—always the night—mercilessly
weaving ghosts out of shadows, the cold
confrontation of mind facing sleep.

Your stained bed turned a wailing pad,
where your smell lingers we now muffle our cries.
Your bowls soaking in the kitchen sink,
your leash by the door, your food going stale
in the closet, along with half-chewed bones.
We no longer have to sneak out, but
nor is there a bark now to welcome us back.
The only sound is his sobbing,
like a jackhammer to my gut.

The last time I saw you,
after you drew your last breath,
I buried my face in your neck
to take one more breathful of you.
I think of the first time we saw you,
shivering in a cage,
big brown eyes I melted in,
and the way you drooled over
the backseat all the way home.

But I can't think of where you are now,
can't give substance to your absence,
cannot materialize it.
I turn my head, bite my tongue,
stifle a sob, and start cleaning.
And when the night comes again,
when your absence is back out
on the prowl, I'll be here...

(Originally posted on March 22, 2014)

Thursday, February 07, 2019

When You’re Gone

To Wojtek 

And now you’re gone.
After I’d gnashed my teeth at you
After I’d snarled and flipped my insides out
After I’d cursed you in every tongue and slant
And hissed like a viper sloughing its shame
I lie tame as a mothball
Rolled in your clothes
Vacant as the streets on a Sunday night
I lie here on your side of the bed
Barely filling your dent
And pretending that the heat
Is the hair on your arms

After I’d spewed hatred in your face
With the aftertaste of regret
After I’d peeled the ceiling
With the pungency of my venom
After I’d promised you I’d never write
Another melodramatic poem
When you’re across the street
I lie here in your spot
Replaying your voice
Cranky and digitized
To fill the quiet of the hour
I turn the clocks on their faces
I flip off all the lights
And I shrink the rooms to my size

I had tried to empty the fridge
Of yesterday’s trash
But even my blind hunger had failed me
I wish I can pop a happy thought
To get me through my sleep
But tomorrow weighs on my teeth
And grinds them to dull nubs
I wish I can, like the cat
Reach between my ears
And lick the lint that
Has grown in the trap
I wish I can
Go back to yesterday
When I was biting your head off
Just to grow you another

(Originally posted on November 07, 2005)

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

"The Story" by Joe Bolton

If it rained tonight
I’d lie down
For a thousand years.

—As if nothing had happened;
As if the story
Wouldn’t tell itself forever:

No more mother, no remembered loves, and my pulse
Purified, the only sound
As I lowered myself into the depths…

But the bells are ringing up the hill,
Punishing bells,
Recounting all the arguments against me.

If I’ve created the story of my life,
Why not now the story
Of not having ever lived at all?

Maybe then there wouldn’t be this burden
Of what was lost
Almost before it had arrived.

Maybe then there wouldn’t be this weight
Of what is
And what I can feel myself already losing.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

"The Story" by Joe Bolton

After the life is lived
And the world is what it is,
There is only the story:

At Stevensport, the Sinking, River
Empties into the Ohio,
And the Ohio widens.

Or does the story perhaps precede
The living of it, as the new day
Seems to depend on the cock’s cry?

And do the dead and the unborn occupy
The same dimensionless dimension,
Or are they simply where they seem to be?

It would be easy enough to say
What happened, could you only
Bring yourself to:
______________A girl—
No, a young woman—who has lived her life
With old-time parents on a farm
On what the Indians once called the Dark
And Bloody Ground, and who
Has a perhaps somewhat imprudent appetite
For things sensual, falls in love.
His speech and dress and manner
Are slightly strange to her at first, but she

Is taken with the simultaneous
Inward frailty and successful outward gesture
With which he lives in the world, of which
He seems already to have seen much.

In the summer of your first and one great love,
Stars flared nightly in the architecture of sky,
And the world opened up beneath that sky.
The scenes flash and fade now like summer starfall:
Parked in his white car down some dark road;
Driving to Owensboro and Bowling Green; dancing
In a little dive in Tell City, Indiana...
You see yourself—that self—like the portraits
Of those who, no longer living, live
In the flash and fade of a moment torn from time.


Once, the city lured her.
Once, watching the lights
Of Louisville come slowly on in summer dusk,
She thought ... what?
That this would last forever? —Or even
Outlast forever?
Going there to undo
What the two of you had done,
You saw how dirty-gray the city was,
As morning began and the poorer people rose
To the day’s indecencies,
And you saw you were suddenly one of them . . .
When it was over, you had to have him
Stop the car so you could throw up,
Then hugged yourself all the way home.

And she never caught sight of him again.

And so are left to remember the summer nights
When, half-drunk in your daddy’s truck or his white car,
You’d take the hills and turns on Rough River Road
At seventy, just to feel your insides rise.
And laugh for surviving it, and look for shooting stars.

The white car was all that was left of him.
No body, or note, was ever discovered.
—Only the white car, shining in September dawn,
Beside the Sinking River at Stevensport . . .
And which circumstances have, of course,
Led to speculation:
______________that he got you
Into trouble and couldn’t stand himself for it;
That you, never good, drove him. to it;
That he only wanted to make it look
As if he were dead, and is living it up
In Chicago or Indianapolis or some such place.

The rumors, unverified, multiply,
While the people you grew up with
Marry, buy farms, go bankrupt, get divorced,
And move off to the city, looking for work.

The night is starless, utterly still.

You are careful not to let these pieces
Of a narrative cohere
Into anything that might explain too much.

For you, who live in the world,
Must let the world
Remain ambiguous.

And it just wouldn’t be right
To blame a drowned boy
For not floating up bloated,

Or not leaving a note,
Or perhaps not even
Drowning himself at all.

-from "Breckinridge County Suite"

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Tomorrow, don't wake me up
Nor the day after
You are not mine anymore
And I'm not sure
I like that world

I know I opened the door
So how could I blame you
For walking out
Heart first?

"It ain't exactly easy
But what’s the alternative?
Tread water
For the rest of our days?"

I have known the darkness:
I have looked into the abyss
And seen my name
Written in absence.
So how am I to write it now
In lights?

I have seen the exit signs.
I know other

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Hard Country" by Joe Bolton

"It is, even now, a hard country to live in.

Full summer is invisible fire under cypresses
Dying of thirst,
And you think of the dog days it got too hot
To do much else but sit and sweat
And watch the ground bake till it cracked.

Or, wintering, it could be the New World:
The empty duskward distances
And killing promise of mow.
You still remember the night it fell to fifteen below.
You were sitting at the kitchen table,
Ten years old,
A blanket on your lap and a bowl
Of snow cream in front of you.
Your mother was stoking the stove.
You saw, through the window, the west field
Silvered with snow and starlight. Saw
The figure of your father crossing the field,
And the load he carried curled in his arms:
A calf that had picked a bad night for being born.
He brought it in to warm by the stove,
Red ice of afterbirth melting into pools
And the poor thing’s ears already frozen off.

Now, in autumn, walking the long mile
Back from the empty mailbox,
You can see the place, what’s left of it:
Two Plymouths and a ‘34 Ford
Squat rusting, wheelless, home
To broken tools and rotten clothes, mice.
Gray barns and outbuildings lean graying.
And the white house is white
Only in memory,
For the photographs, too, have faded.
Back of the smokehouse, from limp fur, the skull
Of an eaten raccoon grins skyward.
You wonder if there was ever any glory to be had here,
And if not, then why, for two hundred years,
Anybody has bothered....

A hard country to live in, yes,
But not a hard country in which to find
A place to drown oneself.
You think of water, of the names
Of water: Sinking River. Rough River Lake,
South Fork of the Panther.
And all of it flowing Ohioward, Gulfward.

For water everywhere rages to be with other water;
Or, held isolate in ponds, in the hoofprint
Of the thousand-pound heifer after rain,
Reflects the utter emptiness of sky.

And water is as empty as sky, only
Easier to fall into,
Heavier to breathe."

Looking Through Your Eyes

I remember seeing it through your eyes,
my country,
as for the first time.

The tight colorless street
where I grew up
choking with people,
_____now covered with a dust
_____sinful as only humanity is.

I remember looking up
as you raised your head
at buildings that resembled
pockmarks on the face of God.
_____They now rest in pieces
_____on the streets
_____and the face of God
_____is nowhere to be seen.

I remember meeting my family
in you,
sprawling, loud and insuppressible,
spreading over the table like a headache
that shouldn’t be cured.
_____Now the table lies naked,
_____all the colors of the vegetables
_____turned black.
_____Even the flies recoil.

I remember climbing the shoulders of the mountain,
the plain spreading behind us,
patchy and still,
and the valley round the corner,
yawning wide,
like the mouth of heaven.
_____Now it doesn’t shed a tear for us.
_____It had been there when it all began,
_____when men fell from grace
_____and ate each other.

(Originally posted on July 28, 2006)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"The Return" by Joe Bolton

And when, finally, you found your way back,
It seemed you barely recognized the place—
Or rather, the place barely recognized you.
. . .
But visiting friends, their faces both the same
And not the same, you realized how the loss
Of a common language could undo the world:

How the sky over each landscape contained
The blueprints of a city that might rise
When all your generation had gone away,

And how lovers were, in the end, reduced
To the sounds of names, the flesh utterly forgotten.
And it seemed then that you'd come all this way

Only to pass unnoticed through the place,
Driving fast down dangerous, familiar roads
Like a shadow you had cast years before.