archives, poetry

My Last Five Years Spent Living in the Shadow of the Palace of Futility. {poetry}

In the half-light of our last good days, in the

quietest room of the burning house

      couldn’t get warm and

we couldn’t stay lost, and when

your father showed up, he

said the baby was his

wanted money and he wanted

a different life

wanted another drink and… and I

forget where he was finally buried

I forget why your mother hated me

but not that she did

held on to her rage like some

precious holy relic

and so I became her god

I became her faith but

what about the burning house?

Were we ever actually there?

25 years later and all of the ashes

have been consumed

we have stayed hungry

we have grown old

have wasted our lives speaking of hope

in the kingdom of nil

either no one listens

          or no one hears

can you see the difference?

Ignorance vs malevolence, and

in the end, it’s

not the size of the war that matters, but

the quality of pain inflicted on

those who survive,

but do you believe this?

A world where

suffering is deemed holy

an empire built not on wealth, but

on the idea the wealth is all that matters and

                                               was it suicide?

Did he drink himself to death?

Saw him for the last time in some

rat-trap one-room apartment on the north side,

said $200 would get him through the month

said the baby was his

but that we could keep it

said $400 was all he’d need, and then he

started peeling the skin from

his face, but

failed to become someone else,

failed to be anyone we knew

1990? ’91?

Somewhere in there, dead grey sky of

late winter, and all you wanted was

to let me know that you loved me and

all I wanted was your sister’s number

Charlotte St, other side of the river in the

last weeks of the war, said her

boyfriend would be coming home soon

said the bruises were almost healed, and I

joked that it was your mother’s fault

had this savior complex but none of us

ever found salvation

Christ was either

a lie or a junkie

a house on fire in the upstate desert

but we couldn’t get warm

had enough pills to

get us through the day and we

had this baby, but

not its name

not its father

a pile of anonymous bones at the

                                edge of town

and your mother considered it

                                  a victory

built her house from them and

what I saw when we met

was the day you would leave

what I believe in are lesser forms

of grace and hope

my enemies consumed by

disease and despair, and

were we stoned that entire summer?

Was victory declared while we

slept on the bathroom floor?

I wanted to ask your sister

but she wasn’t

answering her phone

wanted to buy you a gift, but

you’d already left for the coast

we’d buried your father and

given the baby to your mother and

they were both growing fat

                           on poison

they were both erasing me

from the future

woke up alone on

the morning it finally arrived, and

knew myself to be… lost


John Sweet is a believer in writing as catharsis. An optimistic pessimist, he’s opposed to all organized religion and political parties. He avoids zealots and social media whenever possible. His latest collections include Approximate Wilderness (2016 Flutter Press), Bastard Faith (2017 Scars Publications), the limited edition Heathen Tongue (Kendra Steiner Editions) and A Bastard Child in the Kingdom of Nil (2018 Analog Submission Press). All pertinent facts about his life are buried somewhere in his writing.


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