archives, poetry

Where Am I When She Calls? {poetry}

Watches her lover
get into the burning car

another cold grey afternoon

another war, or maybe the same one
just moved to a different country

the fine art of killing some of
the children to save the others and
then the car drives off

Screams? No

smell of burning flesh, of gasoline,
and where am I when she calls?

Where am I when
my mother finds my father on
the kitchen floor?

Two questions without answers

the year of junkie suicides,
of no-talent overdoses

nine dollars an hour,
36 hours a week, and everyone dies,
of course, but why am I just pretending
to be alive while I’m busy
doing it?

Why does this girl with her
face painted white
want me to kiss her clean?

Laughs when I ask her
her name

says her boyfriend won’t be home for
another three hours at least,
usually stops to screw some married bitch
when he gets off work, and she says
start with my feet

says work your way up, and I can
still remember a time
when there was an art to bleeding

can still remember being
carsick in the back seat

being thrown into the deep end
and held under and
it’s our fear that stays with us

it’s her last lover
stepping into the bullet’s path

50 bucks from the cash register and
a 12-pack of Schaeffer and
he’s hit but never caught

and she marries a man who
never smiles, and she learns

hills and valleys

creeks and rivers

everything always in the process
of becoming something else

everyone alone

summer, which is where all of my
memories of you exist,
and then summer’s end

burnt hill road on a sunday afternoon

dust-colored sky
just like all of my dreams

college education
and a dead-end job

a waitress I know gone in a car crash
down in North Carolina

told me she loved me,
but she was drunk

broken arm which was a gift from
her boyfriend, and I was trying to remember
why I hadn’t left this fucking town

I was living in a two-room apartment
down by the river,
pretending to be a painter

pretending to be a writer

pretending to be human, and I sucked at it
as bad as everyone I knew

sat on the floor in Sammy’s trailer
listening to the stones while some high school girl
he’d met at the gas station gave him head in
the bedroom

late winter, early spring, everything
without color and streaked with mud

a landscape defined by
abandoned warehouses and
burned-out gas stations and all of the
empty fields in between

a cop at the door wanting to
know what I knew, which was nothing

landlord with his gap-toothed smile,
his reek of pot and beer,
said there was a party upstairs

said his brother had been killed
in the war,
but he couldn’t remember which one

said dead is dead and
walked down the hall, and I am
tired of being whatever age I am

I am tired of no longer having
the strength to hate myself

last days of a desperate year,
children tear-gassed, poisoned, shot to
pieces by their own governments

fucked by men who claim to have
licked the ass of god and
tasted only honey and listen,

just shut the hell up and listen

you will answer the phone at
4:30 in the morning to receive the
news of your son’s death
or this,

you will be six thousand miles away
on the day your
father is finally devoured by cancer

you won’t have spoken to him for
almost 15 years

it will take six weeks for
the news to find you

you’ll laugh

will think about your own death,
but from a distance,
detached and unconvinced

these things happen, of course,
but almost always to someone else

almost always without reason

pretty goddamn funny
when you get right down to it.


John Sweet is a believer in writing as catharsis. He’s opposed to all organized religion and political parties. He avoids zealots and social media whenever possible. His latest collections include Heathen Tongue (Kendra Steiner Editions), A Bastard Child in the Kingdom of Nil (2018 Analog Submission Press) and A Flag on Fire is a Song of Hope (2019 Scars Publication). All pertinent facts about his life are buried somewhere in his writing.


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