InferNo

Greet me with suspicion when I offer these 

free poems then never mention it again : 

it’s always somebody’s five o’clock somewhere

& in its shadow I have sheltered 

 

whenever I’ve made the mistake of scraping

against the grain. If I had a nickel

for every time I was a dime a dozen

I’d have enough money to’ve sprung 

 

for the extra large organic cotton balls. 

I’ve not got a bright light in which

to hold you, but when it’s needed I’ll

still flick the switch

 

& wake to greet these lesson plans, 

another case of the vapours sustaining me

with only occasional 

palpitations. Heaven is nothing

 

but the blush of hours right before they 

rust & the brighter

it gets, the more likely I am 

to gobble my yearly allotment 

 

of cultural capital in one 

immodest gulp: the fear

of missing out vs. the feat of leaving 

the house just in time for doling

 

out of torques & war horses. 

I bought tissues & fresh razor

blades, a decongestant that makes 

my hands shake in the space 

 

between disassociation & 

sinus infection, red slashes across

 price tag righteous in their bargains.  

I can’t afford your anchor

 

& so I drift for now toward the columns 

of flame, but one day you won’t 

own me & I won’t owe you & we could 

turn blue if we held our breaths 

 

in the face of each others’ scant 

& immodest treasures. The temptation 

is to think of what comes after 

as a gateway when bricks are not 

 

cemented & so the road

continues to shift. The present

persists whether I am present for it

or not & resistance is just 

 

something to do while we’re waiting

for the second shoe hits the floor : 

a mountain, a river, a boatman 

& a bridge. 

 

In the course of things,

we coarsened.  We shed our thongs, 

sarongs & body stockings, tucked our socks 

under the sofa with our fast 

 

food wrappers. Tied ourselves in knots 

with enough discipline to outstrip

our masters.  

outstripping the masters until all 

 

was forgotten, 

ill-gotten, bought & resold 

for ten times its supposed value. Alone

in our loan modifications, 

 

we people in this world still have thirsts 

that steal us from sleep. The neighbourhood watch

gets supplanted by the chyron’s crawl,

but the  block captain is still shouting

 

himself hoars, oblivious to the bunch of us

still waiting our turn. Another woman

wearing a tiny sombrero

vomits margarita mix & neon nacho 

 

cheese onto the street & just as suddenly 

the ringleader of the kids who used to sit on our stoop 

obscenely heckling commuters

 is in jail for murder & stayed on the run for days 

 

until somebody shot the windows out of his dad’s

house around the corner. Try to render it down

until the sound is clean & round,

not the high-pitched whine I’ve emitted 

 

ever since I could write my name 

in giant block print. The sidewalk Brahmin 

told us that happiness is a choice 

while forcing the sacred brochure into our hands, 

 

so to celebrate we buy shiny shirts. Pretend 

to give two shits. Find new jeans too stiff. 

Sniff at the liver of another false prophet 

while they’re all still saying sooth 

 

besides the glittering swimming pool.

I would volunteer to be their sin eater 

if I could taste a hint of pleasure 

along with the ash, chew & swallow 

 

their pain in the name of cultivating 

a kind of scarcity lest the guest list 

be meaningless in its transitive 

glamour. I’d perform the social niceties, 

 

forsaking the sacred fountain for the salt lick 

at the centre of the eternal paternal language 

of behooving. On top of the storage cabinet,

the basket of plastic toys

 

earned by being a good boy: I memorized 

my time's tables then stapled the web of my left hand 

to see what would happen,

let my friend stab my right & the pencil

 

lead is still in there right now. One

punch & my entire wardrobe 

becomes a bruise. One concussion 

& I wasn’t sure why sucking 

 

the marrow out of life suddenly tasted 

so totally gross. No grace, no refinement, just 

the grudging acceptance of possessing 

so much cheap fiberboard furniture. 

 

It’s less oratory than a sketch toward an impression 

of walking in a giant arc to find the same carcass 

decaying just off of the path :

 you doubt the route but pursue it, anyway,

 

everything seemingly arbitrary but still nestled 

in its place. I’d thought the point was opacity 

& had been taught to be embarrassed 

by necessity’s directness,

 

but sincerity is everywhere & 

ear to the juice glass, 

glass pressed against the thin plaster,

I would strive to intercept their confessions

 

& be content, let it all accumulate, 

such as it is, until I open into an understanding 

of this moment. How he zips his windbreaker 

all the way up. How he patiently patches his vest 

 

one stitch at a time. How we try to decide 

whether we’re all special 

or nothing is. How they’ve found our albums, 

are playing the old songs even now. 


Chris McCreary's most recent book of poems is [ neüro / mäntic ] (Furniture Press 2014). You can find his reviews and interviews on sites such as FanzineThe Volta, and Rain Taxi. He teaches English and creative writing at a high school outside of Philadelphia.