america, without maps

this idea of safety
which i don't believe in anymore

these grey hills beneath a
pale yellow sky

grey snow on the houses and the bones
and the way ice begins to spread
like cancer
across the river's surface

the way i've become something less
than the man you wanted me to be

my hands empty or
balled into fists

your sister asleep or
crying on the bathroom floor

her lover drunk in another woman's bed

the baby hungry

maybe found dead in a
hotel dumpster
or maybe half alive beneath the
kitchen sink
and it's always november

it's always the 21st century

beaten dogs and
horses whipped blind and
the ways that we justify our actions

the names of two teenage girls
found buried in the back yard of
a well-kept house

this man who says that all he did
was love them

tell me he
doesn't deserve to die


breathing in sunlight at
the exact moment the bomb goes off
7000 miles away

standing in the shadow of
an empty building

never learning the names of
the 30 people killed

never mentioning
any of my fears to either of my sons

letting them discover
my failures for themselves


monday beneath the almost-sun
with the ghosts of children
hanging from trees

a homeless woman
on washington ave who will
be found dead behind the high school
at some point in my lifetime

the fact that ideas fail as
easily as flesh

what i'm thinking of are
all of the deities who never returned
and who never will

what i'm thinking of is
virginia woolf

her pockets full of stones and
the water rising to meet her and
the names of angels held tight
behind clenched teeth

oppenheimer's dream
approaching fast

my grandfather giving his name
to my father

teaching him fear and self-hatred

the fine art of distance

my entire life
spent waving good-bye

first sketch for an autobiographical poem

this strange beauty
after everything

these days shaped by
boredom and fear

sunlight and the shadows
that cut absolutely

the factories
which die

the smokestacks
which come to define
the landscape

layers of peeling paint
and distorted slogans and
all of these flags that
have no meaning

all of these rooms where
we live desperately

the space between
the window and the door

the distance from the
fourth floor
to the sidewalk

the man who lives
or the child who doesn't
and always the noise
of the interstate

the lie that we will be
welcomed somewhere else

that our sons and daughters
will remember us
or that we ever loved them

two hundred miles from
me to you
and what i remember is the
feel of your skin

the taste of salt on
state line road

not christ but
the threat of him

a dark red cross carved
into a brilliant blue sky
and the silence as
you buttoned your shirt

each wasted moment
that followed

every one of them
a gift

something written after reading kathryn rantala's eastern
washington gothic

this colorless sky
after the rain

the muffled sounds of the freeway
and the steady crawl of the wind
and bones reaching up where
the soil has been scraped away

the pavement pitted
and decaying

poisoned rainbows where
the cars leak oil
into dirty pools of water

where the children place their hands
to touch the darker mind of god

and it's been four years now
since the doctors discovered the
right combination of pills

since the dying man's body
suddenly stopped devouring itself
and there are some in
this land of vampire-priests who
would call it a miracle

there are some who
would rape their own daughters
with a crucifix held tight
in each hand

things happen no matter
how tightly we close our eyes

the slaves have all been freed

have all been buried but
their ghosts remain
and each war is the last

every witch is burned to
prove a point

the only thing you will ever
have to be is afraid

© John Sweet

. . . has been writing for about 20 years. He is 36, married, a father, trying to keep the house from falling down, etc etc. He has a new e-chap, IN THE KNOWN WORLD, available at; first full length collection, HUMAN CATHEDRALS, available from He is "a believer in both the written word and the futility of the written word, which makes [him] the life of almost no parties."