Author: Rusty Morrison & John Gallaher

John Gallaher is the author of the books of poetry Gentlemen in Turbans, Ladies in Cauls, The Little Book of Guesses, and Map of the Folded World, as well as the free online chapbook, Guidebook from Blue Hour Press, and, with with the poet G.C. Waldrep Your Father on the Train of Ghosts (BOA, 2011). His next book will be the book-length essay-poem In a Landscape, coming out in 2015 from BOA. Other than that, he's co-editor of The Laurel Review and GreenTower Press.

Rusty Morrison's After Urgency won Tupelo’s Dorset Prize and is forthcoming in 2012, The Book of the Given is available from Noemi Press, the true keeps calm biding its story won Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award and was published by Ahsahta as a Sawtooth Prize winner. Whethering won the Colorado Prize for Poetry from the Center for Literary Publishing. She’s Omnidawn’s co-publisher, and she lives in Richmond, CA.

[First to Last] pt. 4

We Had Our Doubts on the Way to Time

It can be nice to think of hope
as an erasing. I erase the dead part
of my dead friends, the knot in any
direction at once. 

Hopefulness is what all of these
blank expressions are for. 

I read “the mountain goats” just as the song
“No Children” came on,
by The Mountain Goats. It’s another erasing,
one done with these strangers that show up
to play the parts of everyone you know. Yet another
slope of shifting stones.

I’m standing in line at the hardware store
and the guy in front of me says,
“You can’t make that shit up.” But when I tell the story
I make up that it’s a hardware store.

Erasing is just another mirror
we step into, I’m thinking,
imagining these goats of yours on their
precarious cliff face, some other world
made to look precisely like this one,
where we pose before each other as if posing
were a mighty leap
where later we might be
stacking apples on a game show. 

And it matters, doesn’t it, as all erasing does: 

When we run out of bombs
we throw our children.

On Our Way to Doubt, We’d Been Had by Time

I didn’t realize that I’ve been stacking apples on a game show,
until you told me. I hadn’t noticed
the game show audience
behind my back
until you pointed them out.
But now I can see that the poem
has always been
on to them. Whether I know it or not.

Does a poem want to rouse the audience
to cheer for the apple-pyramid
or its collapse?

Have you heard of the poet
who has a full portrait of Emily Dickinson
tattooed on his back?
The better to know her, by
not seeing her?
When he shifts his shoulders
her ambiguous expression’s changing smile can actually make
that audience laugh.

Is this poem a tattoo that I
already can’t see?
Is ink always only as deep as skin’s memory?

Hope, you tell me,
is what all these blank expressions are for.
Blanks that tempt me to fill them
with all my not-knowing,
all the apples I’m stacking
to watch them fall.
But a few, I’ll keep for you
to share with me,
crisp and sweet, and not yet bruised.


Upon further investigation, “Watch
your back” becomes “Hey,
lookit that!” as the new swimsuit line
extends across the boardwalk
along the beaches of Tulsa.

Is that what I’m doing? What
we’re doing? Whose keeper will it be,
then, who regards the tiger
drag itself over the top
of its enclosure? And which are we cheering for?

Which lecture is it where they prove
humans know how to talk? And that words
can never be heard, mathematically speaking.

I always give up too quickly.

The afternoon drags on
as any minute we’ll start singing
becomes our song.

[First to Last] pt. 3

A “Model of Leptons” Might Be a Yodel of Met-Ones

If you’d said “yodel,” not “model,”
I’d have thought the bird in your “little birdcage”
would be the one singing it,

before you admitted you’d probably lost the cage.
How quickly things change
from one weightless
line-break to the next.

There probably wasn’t any bird anyway.
Weightless as all our little parakeet-cage kinds of disappearances
must remain, these days,
even among friends.

I had to look up “leptons,” having forgotten (again)
what it means.
“Subatomic particles that don’t take part in
a strong interaction.”

Does admitting that I forgot
add in more weight? or less?
Have I weakened the interaction sufficiently?

“Behind the things we say are people
moving back and forth, carrying each other.”

Can I love you for that?

Behind the people we say
we are
is there anything left to carry? Is there anything 
still moving us?

Will you still be there, behind it all, to carry me,
if I ask?

Thanks for taking me to the restaurant in Chicago.
Between the moment the photo was framed
and the shot was taken,
I could disappear
without even having to feel the table fly,
the plate glass explode.

Readers are lucky that way, aren’t we?
Something like leptons.
At least, we start out
thinking this. But the poem
knows better,
doesn’t it?

Another of the Skills the Weather Exhibits

When you mention how quickly things change
it’s years later, and the guards and the inmates
are posing together for a photograph. “Convicts”
someone directs as they’re shuffling, and
“inmates” someone corrects. There’s no telling
where anyone’s standing, however,
as the island (this is Alcatraz) erases perspective
the longer one stares at it. Some are laughing
and some aren’t. Does it matter,
when this is not the kind of sky that listens or carries?

Saying something might be the only reason to,
which presupposes an uncertain amount
of forgiveness. You remember what you think
about, the saying goes. Therefore,
one should be reading widely
and thinking about as much as possible. About
being operative. And how effortless
it can seem sometimes. He ain’t heavy, the song goes,
he’s just another Bird Man, or whatever,
being taken away. Trust me
because it would be fun to be trusted. “There probably
wasn’t any bird anyway,” you remind me,
and you’re probably right. It was long ago.

Certainly there’s a question in there,
even if there’s no money in it. More “experimental”
than “mainstream,” but why? Here’s the
forgetting experiment, we can call it
Jesus and the Volcano, as a form of empty
thinking. I feel you’re standing at a window when you say
that the thing knows better, but how
are we to know? It’s the same as sitting next
to a couple men in their eighties talking about
robbing banks. One of them did it
but now that’s a version of accepting the unknown
which can often feel like you’re wishing
for bad things to happen.

We Make As Much of Language Habitable As We Can

Exploring the limit of a “forgetting experiment,”
I might find that its wire fence
is weak and rusted.
But you’ve reminded me
it will still be barbed. The guards seem kind
in the pose
you sent me, but that’s just
my perspective
Until I see that my habit of hopefulness
is only 
another form of erasure.
“Convicts” must be the ones with irrevocable ‘convictions’.
Thank you
for that warning. “Inmates” then,
I’ll call us, instead. ‘Mates’ for the moment of ‘in’-wardness
when we both recognize in the pose
there’s a “no telling”
right there
“where anyone is standing,”
which moves outward in all directions at once
from the poem I want to make of it.
When inhabiting language, there’s always a peak out of reach
that even the mountain goats
can’t get to. Goats
gauge altitude’s evasiveness
instinctively, and avoid places
where they can’t make a mirror-match
between the steady light in the sky above them
and the lightness
of their hooves on a precipice
of shifting stone.

[First to Last] pt. 2

The Climate on Mars

The car’s on fire
but you still have to drive it.

The street’s new. It shines
almost silver.

To drive, to feel the wind
through your hair
is a good thing, they whisper.

It’s expected.

In the other version of
tentative that you were thinking of,
the streets open up. Blue buildings
with windows catching gold. 

A kind of red-gold
as we pass. 

You can go home, of course. You can park
in the garage.

You can offer strangers a ride,
drive them to the country. 

There are responsibilities
in this world.  (I suspect as much
when you talk of courage, though I had
to add it later.)

So tonight we’ll stay up very late. 
We’ve such fine things to do.

Itinerary for Inter-Planetary Travel

When you gave me the car, as a way to explain
the climate on Mars, you warned me
it was on fire.
But I said to myself: Well, it’s only a little hotter,
a little brighter red
than I’m used to. I’d so wanted to drive it!
After all, it was
what you’d offered me.
You said it would only be “wind” in my hair,
and that’s all I felt,
at first.
is like that.
You said
there’d be “a kind of red-gold”
to get passed, and I heard
“a kindness of red-gold.”
Trust is the only grammar
I have to go on.
And there does seem to be some kindness
in every passage
out of this world.
You’re right about that. I’ve seen it
on the faces of my dead,
after they were done with the dying. So much kindness,
there was still some left behind
on their pale, emptied faces.
That’s what I tell myself,
when I’m listening.
Hard as it is, I have to trust the grammar of
my own translations.
You said the “streets open up,” and
they do, don’t they?
But isn’t it ever only the one street?,
going the one-way, which is the body, though I imagine it
opening wider and wider
and wider,
until it’s done with kindness
and with burning.

A Model of Leptons

They’re burning our dishes again, saying
we’re all going to die someday.  You’re right
when you say it’s a combination, then, of kindness
and burning.  A cloth hat hitting
and bouncing off the floor.  Calculating the math
of the folds of the dress
as you turn in the mirror.  How weightless
some things must be.  The room
used to hold a little birdcage.  I don’t know
if I have it anymore.  Behind the things we say
are people moving back and forth,
carrying each other.  We’re
at a restaurant in Chicago.  We ask
someone to take our picture.  Here,
it’s the little silver button.  You have to keep it
depressed a second or so.  And underneath
we count the steps between the tables,
how the bodies might drape
if it becomes draping time.  Small group work
or projects may be used.  Films.  A comedian
is set to arrive to talk about hospital food. 

We’ve got to make sure there’s room
along the street in case the street
opens into a parade.  To combine the world
into groups, we frame the photograph to include
the restaurant façade, but as few
of the people walking by as possible. 

I would like to understand the countries
that I feel between the objects on the table, substituting
for people. Perhaps the table would rise to the left
and fly into the plate glass window.  Perhaps
it would fly over the roofs across
the street. That might be the ordinary thing to do. 

I would like to have a car that drives itself,
please. And only nice days. You say smile. But you might
be mistaken, you know.
You’ve been mistaken before.

[First to Last] pt. 1


Inside the talking room.
Salted peanuts as subterfuge.
Gaudy shades of standing lamps
to vitiate light, imply for us
a past.
Narratives easily made
more distressed (the latest style:
ragged, not rage)
by pulling out a few upholstery tacks.
Jovial derision
easier than humility.
An entire human life could fit between
snapping the wall switch on
then off.
But I have a crick in my neck
trying to catch the wall plaster’s crack
Room inside the talk for two?
Bring thimbles and vest buttons and
jam jars of trapped atmosphere.

Staying as a Form of Departure

It’s best to leave, so you won’t know
how the house breaks apart
right down the middle
when the machines lift it from the
north face. The garage
was never that strong. (That
was an expected break.) But the pile,
who could imagine the way
it looks like every other pile?

All our old things cry out
in bad foreign accents
beneath the straying fragments. One
could almost imagine them
coming together, forming some new
town or sequence. Some new teetering horse
wheeling in. Because
the past is always a silly excuse
leaving a trail of monkeys across the lawn.

You never really know
until you get them away from people
how much you’re going to care
for rock collections
and plastic forks. Oh my beautiful
. I’ll spend my whole life
in tentative footsteps, then, listening
to the weather working,
believing the drapes and sequins.

The apparitions of sentiment.
Magical fish bones.

If You Hadn’t Stayed the Departure, I Wouldn’t Have Formed.

Even if “departure as a form” is only possible
in the imaginal
where our precious “houses” turn into “horses”
to be lost in the pile under “plastic forks”
before the poem ends.
You’re right, every “break” does feel “expected,”
after the fact. In any backwards glance,
everything in the stack is gray as fatalism.
Have we the courage still
to hunt for the next “magical fish bone”?
I’ll show you mine, if you’ll show me yours.
I did glimpse a teetering horse, when you
wheeled him in
with your gentle qualifier of ‘some’.
Thanks for “leaving a trail of monkeys across the lawn”
in case I might follow.
I suspect that what “you [& I] never really know”
has slipped again, for a nightly prowl,
out the back door, which will always slam when it closes,
even though the poem’s own ending
remains open,
and sweetly muddied with the beautiful footsteps
that will never make listening for them
less tentative.