[Editor’s note: The following poems appear in The Magic Kingdom, which is available through Amazon.com and directly from the publisher, Black Lawrence Press.They are reprinted here with permission of the author.]
Elegy for my Twenties
They were spent, despite my best efforts
in the city of Los Angeles
where the palm trees never seemed real to me
floating in front of the hair salons & nail parlors
in their wooden dresses that shone slick
as taffeta or
the trees were
beauticians talking amongst themselves
knowing something about loss
that escaped me then (as it escapes me now)
about how it can be dressed up
or concealed or made to shine with a hard
that both dazzles & sedates. Like youth itself,
once you have passed it by as I passed derelict cars
on the 405
old carapaces leaking old & silent families onto the shoulder
or into the rearview mirror
where they hardened & turned red with distance.
But this isn’t about them.
& if I claimed to care about them,
perhaps that would be worse than simply not caring,
perhaps some things you can’t make beautiful, perhaps one
which you do not own, but hold, helplessly in your hands, this
self you’ve invested so much in. This self you’ve surrounded
trees & abandoned cars & sentient perfume …(that clings to you
because it loves you) …does it even sound
familiar? Do you remember instead do you prefer
those condemned houses you used
to wake in …those decaying recliners …with bad cocaine on tv
trays your little parade
of women you drove mad with worry …the needle you found
in your car …the black rubber staff …that had been inside someone
& left behind—
is this better, is this worse. It has to matter,
but it doesn’t.
There is this notion we have that
to write a good poem you have to be a good person
or seem like one—
which means you can’t trust anyone. This is a problem,
a real one.
You’ve never had any other.
Missives from the Emerald City
Blown by a storm of mild disinterest—or too many
into that bar, the one I always hated,
La Poubelle, I find myself watching a girl in a white fringe dress
stumble through the exits, only to
spit out Texas across
the sides of her borrowed Lexus. She catches my eye; smiles
look mom, no hope, vomits on the other
Do you live for the weekend do you polish
your body like bone
…………………..does it put the lotion on its skin
when you’re down
do you get up again? Do you love the blue plastic angel
or just the unstable?
Do you remember
………………….would you prefer to forget?
…………….(your hand red
from her summer dress)
Is that, said the Lion, what you mean by regret? Is it hard to answer
with your heart in its teeth?
……………………………………(if on distant shores, we should ever meet
Why were you there standing in line? Why you were there
at that particular time? Is there someone we should call? &
were your injuries sustained
in the fall? (a singular accident—children dangling
like singular black tassels—did you
get there in time?
Russel Swensen is the author of Santa Ana (2012) and The Magic Kingdom (2016). His fiction and poetry have appeared in Black Clock, Quarterly West, Pank, Third Coast, Devil’s Lake, The Collagist, and elsewhere.