James (he/him) is a poet based in Olympia, Washington (USA). who does
his best work between the hours of up-too-late and is it even worth trying
to sleep? His poetry focuses on anxiety, recovery from alcoholism, family,
and being trans. His earlier work can be found in The Poet's Billow.

Grief, a Souvenir

Gary's ashes sit still
in a gift bag,
a souvenir of his wife's grief,
a parting gift for us to determine the fate of
when we come clean the dog hair
from the bathroom floors
and thick layer of grease
from the cabinets and stove.

He drank moonshine
from mason jars
and had his own room
for living as a smoke stack,
ghosts of nicotine always caught in his throat.

After he died,
his wife asked us to deep clean as much of him
out of the room as we could.
Even two years later,
he's still here.
Sticky yellow walls,
an american flag made from shotgun shells,
and medals,
his rewards for useless wars.

I used to put my earbuds in,
playlist on random,
to drown out the rhetoric of bitter voices
coming from the tv.
A dog too big for laps
taking up as much space
as him in his chair,
an old tennis racquet and ball,
his tools so she could run far for her joy.

The sliding glass door
is always covered in paw prints and drool
when we walk in,
his cheerful, war-torn voice
not there to greet us,
dirt swirling in the sunlight.

When I lift his ashes
to wipe the dust beneath them,
they are heavy in every way.
Maybe his wife is waiting
for the perfect time and place
to spread them.
She must know the weight
of keeping them.

Attention Deficit Fuck You

A conversation between adults,
too many words
too big for my mouth.
Before graduating high school
by the skin of my angst-ridden teeth,
I spent an hour a day
in a special room
for special kids,
my embarrassment
taking up more space than I felt entitled to.
The other kids stared as a woman,
warm as a prison guard,
came into the classroom to shuffle me away.
A vacant conference room to take tests,
the emptiness an insult.
Eyes always behind me,
watching for signs of stupidity
with every maneuver of my pencil.
Elementary school taught me
I couldn't turn the curves of C's and D's
into the perfect lines of A's,
without a choir of voices
telling me I have the ability
to do better,
that the potential is there,
aching to be used.

Tender Mouth

The first time I sucked dick,
in the darkness beneath the splintered wood,
of my grandparent's deck,
among pool toys and spiderwebs,
my mouth was too tender
to fully take him in.
Some neighborhood boys
learned the rumor was true,
became hungry for my tongue,
and I was only too eager to please.
The boy next door
would return the favor,
taking out his retainer
before going down
between my anxious legs.
He said he liked doing it,
for practice,
and I didn't mind being his test subject.
He made me feel good.
It wouldn't be until I was twenty
that I'd have my first orgasm,
in a bedroom with a vibrator
I bought in Chicago.
Since then,
I have begged men
to erect their kingdoms inside me,
in the backseats of foreign cars,
steam melting down the windows,
fumes of skin against skin.
My spread legs have never been bound
to intimacy
when it's come to men.
I'd rather they not know
the layout of my bedroom,
the softness of my sheets,
or how hungry the moonlight is
to make shadows on my walls,
things more secretive
than the surprise between my legs.
I let them keep their names,
I'm here for the pitch of our moans to mingle
and which lever makes the seat go back.
When we part,
it's quick and transactional,
like a bank teller
saying have a nice day
after handing off a receipt
to be thrown away.

My Kingdom for One More

Bottles of alcohol lined up just so,
behind crystal clear glass doors,
no longer beg for my mouth.
They are quiet,
until they aren't.
Until the day
I ask the grocery store clerk to open the case,
bring me my first relapse.
The colorful labels
in the back by the produce
bring their bitter, hopped tastes
back to me,
a bouquet of flowers for my tongue.
I remember the person I used to be,
name etched crookedly into each stool
at the bar,
seven years of unquenched thirst.
Always doing the math
on how many more drinks
I could bury myself in,
digging through my bank balance for more.
I'd let the buzz entice my fingers
into texting my parents for money,
feigning the need for something important,
but non-existent,
a bill or dry gas tank.
I strangled honesty,
took away its breath,
and didn't give it back
soon enough,
searched for trust in everyone's throats,
came up empty.
Most of my nights were spent stuck in the bottom of a bottle,
drowning my marriage in every cold pint glass
I put against my lips.

I still see that person sometimes
in the new faces at meetings,
every fear on display,
not knowing what to expect
from a group of strangers
who ask for your story.
Returning to the front of the store,
I find comfort I'm not spending
anyone's money
on liters of regret
or ounces of harm,
that the spirits no longer haunt me.

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