Five Poems by Jay Sizemore

The Gatlinburg Fire

One day in the mountains
people woke up to leaves
shedding sparks
and the sky a red iron
sizzling steam
in wood pulp and quiet creek,
making damp moss black
skin cancer under a laser.

The limbs feathered with embers
and flickered with hot knives
sending the atmosphere into a shiver
of hellfire and nightmare,
these towering twisted candelabras
looming dangerously
over either side of the roadway.

Power lines jumped and coiled
and slithered like snakes
decapitated but deadly.
People left homes
only to return to scorched yards
and chimneys left standing,
soot-scarred ghosts
reaching toward a heaven ambivalent.

Where did their prayers land?
Not everyone made it out alive.
And these kids today,
want to take your life’s work,
the novel of your every typewritten
experience and obsession
love and expression
and put it to the torch,
just to wonder at the emotion
reflected in your eyes.

How to make a New Year’s resolution and mean it

There is no hope, no promise of renewal, no great reset button like the moon in the sky, just days documenting the passage of time, numbers in antique alarm clocks clickety-clicking their way to 11:59 and flipping the entire horizon like a quarter flattened under a railroad car, pulling a tablecloth free of the table without disturbing a single dish, just a hint of champagne sloshing in a crystal goblet smeared with lipstick, as the great party dies down to the whisper of waves lapping at the shore of a beach strewn with beer cans and discarded paper sunglasses, a sequential number jutting from the top of their frames. You want to change, but you change every second, new cells dividing as old cells slough off to coat book shelves and lamp shades, brain cells starving and flickering out like light bulbs in filament fried sparks behind white glass shells, this thought of needing to change acts as a Sisyphusical Hell, when habit and routine sustain the solipsistic self. Change is a myth, an illusion behind the veil of itself, a stand-in for the idea of success, something unattainable like immortality that propels you forward through the monotony. Just look at the icons of the past, the gods held up high, fading into rotted celluloid reels and chiseled stone with wind-smoothed edges, smiles etched like caricatures of humanity on cuneiform walls of our histories. And what of happiness? What of love? What of the chemicals that rage like technicolor overtures in the brain and decode the floating soup of zeroes and ones we call a universe? These things are necessary for tomorrow much like my wife’s perfume left on her pillow, something I can bury my face in and inhale through the fabric long after she is gone and left me in the wake of her absence like a leaf at the edge of a river riding the crests and recesses of disturbances large as the moon, small as the breeze and tectonic plates shifting for miles like a god gritting its teeth. You want to know if it’s worth it, if in the end you’ll be remembered by even one, if someone someday will stumble across the nuanced journal of your existence and wonder at the person behind the words, the intricacies of hair falling across your face in a photograph, if in that instant you might bring joy in the form of a twitch at the corner of their lips. Maybe it is. Of course it is. Even if it never happens and you’re a fucking idiot. Even if it’s true what the scientists say, that before the sun has a chance to go red and swallow its closest planets like an unstoppable comic book villain, in a million years another star will invade our solar orbits and send an avalanche of out of control comets cascading at various proximities of potential impact, each one making the future a negligible dream that I hope you never stop believing in, because imagination is the dark blood that holds these constellations together.

Merry Christmas

We excise one another from our lives
like dead limbs pruned, whisked dry snap
of rusted garden shears

Trees stand stark and unlit in the gray dusk,
inverted and exposed spinal cords
black nerve endings reaching
until reaching no more

Our senses are divining rods of spirit
filtering wind for scents of pine needle
and something super peripheral
a giant beast with fingers of Phillips head
and straight edge razors
galaxies like brain cells spinning
like ballerina skirts without ballerinas
drink umbrellas lost and tumbling
through a void where stars keep their distance
and their light like transcripts of time
told backwards to their death

I won’t say Merry Christmas any more
after this year, as it already feels like a fraud,
a charade of selective memory
where for two days we pretend our universe
exists in the orbits of interpersonal relationships,
and the world outside pauses to allow it,
these fleeting moments of feigned happiness,
where no cities are being bombed into powder,
no mass graves are being dug by mud stained hands
no children sit starving in cars while they hope
the parents don’t get caught stealing inside Walmart again
no Heroin addicts huddled under the overpass
shivering and lost with a needle dangling from a vein
no older brother telling their sisters not to worry
mom’s just asleep in the next room
all this pretending just to show our gratitude
that we are not like them
we were born in the right nation
the right decade
the right shade of meat suit
that gives us so much
and takes it away from everyone else.

When

so exhausted
the world shimmers like flame
around your periphery,
head in an hourglass or a fishbowl
or a laser light show
erupting from every halo
cast from sunlit glass

this skin exists in the past
you perpetually fall back into,
deja vu for solipsists

the road is paved by drunks
operating heavy machinery,
so you can text and drive
and forget you’re alive
while wishing for head-on collisions
that never happen
except to put you in a traffic jam

you’re constantly reading the same novel
constantly drinking the same
over rated lager
but life is a series of twist-off caps
and empty recycle bins
like lovers who become lesbians

this movie has been remade
this novel is formulaic
but it’s the pattern the world relates to
birth, death, and rebirth
as if mortality itself
is an illusion we tricked ourselves
into believing
  .

Listen

This morning it rained
and somewhere I could hear
the sizzle of hot coals
under a bed of wet pine needles.
The air in Nashville has held a haze
for two straight days, a stench
like burnt plastic and old tires
lingering in the gray fog
clinging to the hills
and the tops
of the skyscrapered horizon.

The signs flash orange letters,
Air Quality Alert: Reduce Trips,
and I remember
I’ve never tried shrooms or LSD,
so that would put me in the negative,
or the Upside Down if you’re nostalgic
for bicycles and John Williams scores.

They named the first sex-bot
to have warm, life-like genitals, Hope,
and isn’t it ironic because basements
are generally the last places you go looking
for hope, unless you find spiders inspiring,
and the scent of dirty socks and mildew
as tantalizing as stripper dust
left on a come-stained pillow case.

There I go again, generalizing,
as if lonely people
seeking sexual favors from synthetics
have to live in basements
where the R’s in their keyboards
are too Cheeto dust encrusted to function
and their troll rants
become unintentionally hilarious ants.

I find hope in the strangest places,
happy hour prices
and open mic nights
when someone stands up
and says, “Hello, I’ve never done this before,”
and just for a moment
everyone listens.


Who is the poet? The answer is irrelevant to the truth you seek. The truth rests on the page. All that matters is how that truth is perceived in the mind of the reader. So, if you think to understand this work better through knowing its creator’s surface imperfections, you are asking the wrong questions. Seek no truth outside yourself. Look inward to find the roots of how art stirred you, and then ask yourself why.

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