A Poem by Joyelle McSweeney

by Mark Bibbins, Editor



run it again

double the charge

what’s the damage

sign for it

the universe wheels around in its dishevelment

like an afternoon drunk

rolls a wild eye which is a loophole

everything crawls out or goes in after it

this endtime’s gonna last awhile

a cartoon toucan flies through the chemo suite

dripping sugar loops from its beak

it’s on life support, on repeat

its ink flows antigravitational

flinks from its flank

both a ballpoint pen and a butane lighter

also useful for tracheostomy

an astronaut writes a cheque

a digital door swings open

debt falls out like breasts from the cargo bay

inside the jumpsuit

a port fails

starving bears revolve on ice floes

the nest of ivs snakes like a flexible crown

take it out on the holidays

write back from the front

I am quite well/in hospital

send that lotion I like

my hat is jumping out of my brain

my groin joists groan in the wind

pigeonhole egghole hammer staples my skull

carts around a trunkload of busted audio equipment

I can’t excise

onion scapes

do something remarkable in the dark

only grow away

grow through everything

like toenails in the grave

point the way


is a word I learned from my mickey mouse dictionary:

the greenhouse is demolished

a political word

a representation of donald duck’s anger

in denmark his name is anders and

anders and

a feathered fist

anders and

a convulsive contract

anders and a general contractor

anders and like a universe

slashes his own greenhouse

and anger

fangs the rose

with glass


the rose

who has been quietly manufacturing her own fangs

now wears a diadem of damage on the upended tubs

of fungicide and bone meal

if you label it ‘poison’ they will use it to kill themselves

because they love to read labels

and use things

those humans

and want to drown in the sea

of the Internet

like Freud said

luckless civilians

citizen army

spirit level in the pitted brain

kill me with the farming equipment

kill me with that ashbery poem

farm implements and rutabagas in a landscape

the British call them swedes

carve them up and put a candle there

on the face a chancre grows

a chancre of light

a sad sarcoma

that sags from the wink

fagged out

like fruit loops the beak of a toucan

or fish hooks the mutilated pelican

the hard ‘c’ catches the breath and throws it back

the hard ‘o’ sucks the exhaust pipe of industry

its lipstick is made of arsenic

leached from lead tailings

left over from a mining operation

and adorns the headless mountain with bright pools

we call that rigor mortis because it has such ethical rigor

like simone weil’s heartwall breaking down becoming broth

to feed the rest of the starving body

when the teenager seizes in the driveway, her hatchback

glides down into traffic on its own

its precious stew of heartwall leaching into the bloodstream

this poem forgot to be good

that teenager forgot not to die

those two girls in Uttar Pradesh probably hung themselves

that mango tree colluded

that mango tree forgot to be ethical

listing its face

towards a corona

it was trying to see around

it was trying to see around its burden

it was trying to blink out its blastoma

it was trying to comb the hair of the comet from

inside its sclera, uvea and retina

where its bloodwalls were branching in its eyes

its trunk turning to stone

who streaks the sky

with her long hair out behind

what prodigy

and besides

who gapes

who gags

who knifes open a gut to study what’s clutched there

lets empty out the ocean

to store our plastic beads there

razor handles, mylar balloons

and other indigestibles:

the fear of being a bad poem

the fear of a sole that would crush the palisade layer

the fear of a truncheon that would smash down the facebones

those onion domes and slender minarets

the fear of a bullet that would mark all the chests

with its redline, its markdown, its infinitesimal expense

Joyelle McSweeney’s Dead Youth, or, The Leaks, a verse play starring Julian Assange on the high seas, is out now from Litmus Press.

You will find more poems here. You may contact the editor at poems@theawl.com.