“and even you forgot those brilliant flashes seen from afar” -Ruth Stone

John James

The Recent Past

A tennis ball falls on the dry grass,
where, to put it simply, the atoms
swerve around it and autumn fungi
initiate their deconstructive work.

Fog, words. In the background,
some mountains. None of which
explains the sun’s last glinting
through the naked oaks,
or the rising curtain hung across
the window’s slack panel, by which
I mean the glass was broken…

I, if I were different, would have run
from the back door and let water
from the lemons dribble over my nose.

When I shut my own book, or when
you shut it, when the spectrum
of this punctum has petered out—
But I was renting at the time,
and the prospect seemed unwise.

The hanging heads of blooming daffodils
shooting up along the mortared stone
inch closer to the loamy dirt from which they came,
loosening the border of their outer
from their inner world, which, in the hellish light,
makes them both the same.

Still Life

I’m impressed with your forgetfulness.
You see the keys and miss my face.
Fourth floor canaries over scraped linoleum

whistle and, through a phone, eject
their downy feathers over table cloths
and worn doilies. You’re nursing your dis-

ease with the notion that the contours
of our present might continue through
the fall. “Are we alone in our loneliness?”

Your question, not mine. You want
“to clear your mind.” Turning down
the radio, sipping beer from a can, you bathe

in the nearness of indiscernible voices,
the pleasure of their hum. In static’s
hurried absence, which is also a sound.

From a Plane

Across the valley, vacancy: roads unspool,
words undo themselves on the page.
Mountains serrate the prairie’s face.

Passing by, their ridges dilate sight’s locality,
sputter and shift against the metric of the eye.

Moments ago, you sat at terminal’s end,
twiddling your thumbs, ticking out
the intervals you’d lose to a blue screen.

Memory’s a thin horizon. So, too, is the sky.
Its depth collects the dawn, the day.
Your feed eats the time away.

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John James is the author of The Milk Hours (Milkweed, 2019), selected by Henri Cole for the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize. His poems appear in Boston Review, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, PEN America, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. He is pursuing a PhD in English and Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. Read more

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