about the author

John Gallaher’s most recent collections of poetry are In a Landscape, and, with Kristina Marie Darling, Ghost/Landscape. He lives in rural Missouri.

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Three Poems 

John Gallaher

My Spectacular Distress

It arrives with the names
of my children.

It says bombs are like oranges.

At times, we cut ourselves by accident
or intent,
and sometimes deeply.

It says we all had the same dream
without realizing it.

The train wrecked,
and we were sorry for them.

We wanted to know if we got out.

It visits one of the families
we liked so much,
with the automatic door.

Some yellow daffodils would’ve helped.

It’s entering the city now. The club house
is decorated.

The stop signs
have all been taken down.

Poem for Your Birthday if This Is Your Birthday

I’m working today, or trying to, while listening to Philip Glass’s
“Dreaming Awake” on repeat, which reminds me of all those
times when I’m listening to something that I’m thinking is going
to be not too demanding background music, some solo piano,
and it turns out to be mathematical torture, like the CIA dripping
water on your forehead, or babysitting. Call it a sting or a little
bite, or a ring and run. Not something that really hurts, but just
to kind of hurt, the way art hurts when it doesn’t really hurt,
maybe the type of art that someone would call “courageous”
when really what they mean is that it runs the risk of someone
not really liking it all that much, turning the page or something,
not real courage, the shoot at you or burn your house down
courage we imagine for ourselves. Instead we get the blur of
collisions that was the early solar system, not the stately
progression of accumulating dust I was taught in school. The
past keeps changing in this way, circling back. This’s good music
for scrolling the history of Nazism in America or watching
silent films of villains twirling their moustaches while tying
damsels to railroad tracks. Villains had to be highly coordinated
back then, and good with their hands. Now they just show up
in a line at a building in New York City to interview for cabinet
positions. It’s November 22nd. 12 people in my social circle are
having birthdays. I’m imagining them lost in the woods along
with the corpse of a horse as we’re all being transposed into
a sort of madness, where we’re having madness conversations
about what one does with the corpse of a horse anyway.

Love Is a Place from Which You Return

“The fact of others limits me” is one thought, that couples with
“every chance is your last chance.” And I mean “I” when I say “you,”
which is a helpful conceit. Every chance is that you’re not graceful
or the miners were rough building their houses on the cliff face
as you look up and are clumsy. We will all be miners then. We will
burn our ships for fuel. We will turn gold to lead in our pockets
trying to swim the river. What I mean to say is that all is well. All’s
pretty good right now. The fire’s big and will last the night. What
you were having was a bad dream, whether you look at me that way
or the sky does. It goes on. It descends. I’m on your side. It’s an elegy
to my friend who died or to myself, younger. It descends along
the escarpment until its descent starts to feel like floating or like a bunch
of kids in a classroom raising their hands and saying “yes.” The figures
there are floating too, between their caves of light. Normally I’d stop
there. Stop writing or talking to you, I mean. They’re having their
evening meal. I’d want that to close things out, a series of families
mock fighting and laughing. There’s always more to say, though,
and I’ll never get to it all. Even if I could, I couldn’t. The fact of others
rises around me like two hands. They made it into a TV commercial,
but once someone meant it, over a fire, orange in the glow. Two
floating hands from the darkness. The fact of others couples them
to the future. What they hand to you is that there will always be more
to say. And a lot of it will be wrong and a lot of it will be right,
or feel right, as you’re sick of goodbyes at some point. Well aren’t we
all. You will perhaps say history leads somewhere then, meaning you
want where you are to be somewhere, and this certainly feels like
somewhere, right now. The trail’s narrow along the remote architectural
features. Everyone and everything is possibly dangerous, delicate,
and the shadows of your imagination paved with quartz and shards
of pottery. They long ago departed, 1,000 years maybe. I would tell them
anything if they would only ask, but they never ask. I always thought
you were the most beautiful one. I always wanted to be beautiful
like that, from these caves that don’t speak. These speaking caves
that never speak. It’s why we call them that, “caves,” or “the past,”
or “love,” because we stand outside in the sun, calling to them. I was
caught up in the moment. And no one knows me better than this.

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