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Poem in Which I See Your Double Coming

Suspended between two disbeliefs, I wait
for instructions to arrive, the letter to tell me
what needs to be done. I wasn’t lying when I said
we can’t go back for the stinging nettles.
They’re good for many things but so are
the plants I’ve found here along the tracks.
It still smells like a fire when we go outside
but there’s nothing that we can do about it.
Cameras stay trained in all four directions,
just in case. Toward morning, I dream of putting
one bullet after another into the bathroom wall
as shadows resume their steady march. I know
it sounds crazy, but I’ve sold my last regret,
auctioned it off to the highest bidder.
It’s weapons-grade, if you’re asking.


Poem in Which Nostalgia Gets the Best of Us

The market for verbs has collapsed:
no shouting from the pit, and yet the room
still flutters with scraps of pink and yellow paper.
We ply memory, try to find a trace of the field
packed with plastic horses, their silver poles
tethering them to earth. I should let you know
that, despite my best efforts, the roadblocks
have begun to track us home in a small but insistent
orange-and-white herd, feet clacking on pavement.
They gather at the door when we go inside.
Their constant knocking is, to say the least, distracting.
I have a pretty good idea what happens next.
Today is supposed to be the luckiest day,
though you have probably noticed this
is no longer the case. Stand back, one and all,
and watch the circus converge. O the whirling,
o the elephants poised on one leg.
The sky’s tent flap riddled with stars.


Poem in Which I Am Not Sorry

A good detective begins by dusting for fingerprints.
We return home to find the door knocked in
like a tooth, the cats cowering under the bed.
The investigation is thorough, uncovering only
a smudge of lips on the glass’s rim. We’d been advised
to photograph our possessions, make a list of all
we stood to lose. Spring comes and goes
with its sweep of birds: wings drumming across
the skyways, south to north. Now, we ache for things
to be different. Also for sleep to settle its feet
on our backs. The day’s horoscope says you’ve been walking
the straight and narrow too long. At the five-way
intersection, sirens tear the air. Streetlights like bells
in darkness. If you say “Truth be told,” it means
the rest of the time you are withholding information.
You can’t undo the future that calls you into being.
If you asked me, I’d say yes. What I will remember most
from that time: the hills that did not move an inch.


Poem in Which We Ride the Train Ten Years Out

It is a bruised sort of afternoon. Rain slaps
the windows. Fog stretches between us
and the headlands, erases all evidence
of our passing. It was winter when we met.
We stayed still so long the milk began to separate.
The footprints of animals began to look human.
An animal cannot lie you told me. I tell you
plumeria has no nectar, only scent to lure
the gypsy moths at night. Ghost-blossoms.
Hard-pressed to know when the rain might quit
its yammering, schools of clouds desist and
disperse. Is it wrong to say I loved? The sea
has escaped its shoreline. You’d swear the light
emanated. I have written your name on the inside
of my wrist. Once there was no body between us.


Poem in Which Our Pilgrimage Begins

The rain fell like grey sludge. It had begun
to seem like we’d never arrive. Eyes curtained,
glasses runnelled, no way to measure
the discontent making its home
in our bones. Like sheep, we followed
the conductor’s head at the parade’s beginning.
Afterward, we noted the soreness in our feet.
The cars had stopped running: a sudden mutiny.
Yet circumstances dictated that we get going.
We faced each other at the abandoned
stadium stuck like a stamp to the hillside.
Looked up and down for dropped tickets.
Memory’s damp hold we called the site.
After that, we met underground, even at night.
My words left one by one. I was always leaving you
lanterns to light the passage. In that place
you could go days without seeing anyone.  


J.L. Conrad is the author of A Cartography of Birds (Louisiana State University Press). Her poems have appeared in Pleiades, Third Coast, Jellyfish, Salamander, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Mid-American Review, The Laurel Review, and Forklift, Ohio, among others. She currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she is working toward her PhD in literary studies.