An editor for the federal government, Jonathan Witte has a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Maryland. He lives in Silver Spring, MD, with his wife and three children. This is the first time he has submitted his poetry for publication.
like a desolate ship,
indigo and monolithic,
its umbral sails
the distant hips of
a titanic continent.
Sleep tastes like a mossy anchor;
it lurches, shifts, and slips into gear—
the sound of stars grinding on stars.
I sail across an ocean of teeth.
I acquiesce. I drown
in the velvet
What am I supposed to tell
the children when they bring
their deformed beasts to me?
I teach them the word menagerie as
they clear the project table and sweep
up cuttings from the kitchen floor.
We gather without you for another
slow parade of meticulously made
animals, and I’m embarrassed to
mistake their swans for butterflies.
The sky aligns edge to edge,
a yellow sheet of cellophane,
the afternoon cut and creased
and folded like fractal creature:
a crane inside
a crane inside
Escape Artist Sketches
I stole my brother’s car and drove to Phoenix in the dark. Bluegreen glow of dashboard gauges, the faint scent of roadkill and desert marigolds. Tap. Tap. Tap. Insects slapping the windshield like rain. How many miles does it take to turn yourself around, to rise up from ashes? Keep driving. Drive until the sun blooms.
Some days were more dire than others. CCTV footage confirms I pawned a shotgun, a Gibson guitar, and my wife’s engagement ring at the pawnshop next to Fatty’s Tattoo parlor. The typographically accurate Declaration of Independence inscribed on my back also confirms this.
I ran the tilt-a-whirl at the Ashtabula county fair, fattening up on fried Oreos and elephant ears, flirting behind dusty tent flaps with the cute contortionist and her strawberry-blonde hair.
I derailed in a dive bar.
I disappeared in a city lit by lavender streetlights, where buildings blotted out the stars and the traffic signals kept perfect time. I picked through trash bins. I paid for love with drugstore wine.
I closed my eyes on a mountain road. The sheriff extracted me from a bloody snowbank.
I holed up for weeks in an oceanfront motel, dazed by the roar of the breakers. Each morning I drew back the curtains and lost myself in the crisscrossing patterns of whitecaps, the synchronous flight of sanderlings above the dunes. I dreamed of dead horseshoe crabs rolling in with the tide.
The moon over my shoulder tightened into focus like a prison spotlight. One night the barking dogs undid me. Goodnight, children. Goodbye, my love. I capitulated to the candor of a naked mattress. I grew my beard, an insomniac in a jail cell clinging to bars the color of a morning dove.
I coveted the house keys of strangers.
I opened and closed many doors. I sang into the stoic mouths of storm drains. I stepped out of many rooms only to find myself in the room I just left. Despite all my leaving, I remained.
after Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod Evening
The light is everything;
it makes a godly sound
the locust grove,
and wife in oblivion.
like the black eye
of a whippoorwill.
Who catches the
notes of its song?
Only the dog.
as a chrysalis.
They can’t hear
yet, but they will.