Jeff Whitney


Life reduces us to amateurs. Kisses our cheek
then puts out a small stub of a cigar on the other.
I’m tallying accomplishments like days scratched
on a prisoner’s wall. Wolves in the attic
laugh in the clothes of daughters. It is wrong
to think you’re better than people
think you are. With his last sheepskin, the Buddha
watered a sapling. You can read about it in the stars
probably. A pastor in high school told me
I could get to heaven if I shaved my legs and listened
for hidden messages in songs. I’m a little closer
to who I think I am but failing all the time. Heaven
won’t have me and that’s fine. Mohammed had seizures
and spoke to an angel and look how well that worked
for him. A dream is never what you want it to be
only need. Need is a seven letter word
with a few blanks in the middle. We guess
as good as Greeks, charge like some dumb crusade
to what we think will complete us. I’m reading What Thou Lovest Well
Remains American
and think I’m as much Jensen pale at
her window as anybody. In my city we live in streets
once deemed unsafe. Now it’s dull, and the only disease we carry
is change, the circus act of rotten luck, the transposed all gone
to darker streets, the limitless pockets of the great wizard|
of misery. It all seems like different pages of the same
book. The worry hard-wired, the money always
gone. Popcorn will keep a bird alive and a human
but not long enough to matter. I’m stringing this necklace
of candy not calling them teeth. A salesman never tells you
the full story. The water is delicious but the water will kill you.




Today I’m reveling in the news of an elephant
falling on the big game hunter. Christ
when brought to Pontius Pilate refused his offer
of pardon so it’s ok not to take what you are given.
For centuries hyenas have visited a very specific town
in Kenya where they are offered the rotting flesh
of past meals. If you watch, they line up like a new religion
not communion but they take the body all the same.
Once, sitting by the lake on mushrooms, we saw lights
in the distance that turned out to be a procession
of Jehovah’s chosen. They walked past us into the dark
waters and waded up to their elbows tracing circles
around some unspoken center and I remember asking
if we were dreaming or just very lucky to which my friend replied why not
both? Phil, I’m trying to figure out how to live in this country
where I am lucky and so many are not. If I am the bullet
or the wind not strong enough to stop it. If I am part hyena
everyday with a little less meat on the bones. My religion
will be writing every good thing down on its own balloon
and giving it back to god but not before I gave it to everyone.
Should I make a place for failure too? Today, bombs
went off in Yemen, Manchester, and Sri Lanka. Also
a baby was born and an orchard was flamed in an attempt
at order. Several species of insect went as yet undiscovered.

Jeff Whitney is the author of five chapbooks, two of which were co-written with Philip Schaefer. Recent poems can be found in 32 Poems, Adroit, Booth, Muzzle, Prairie Schooner, Third Coast, and Verse Daily. He lives in Portland.



Mark Cugini