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by John Jeffire

Everybody Gets It But You


Speak to speak in time,

note left on the kitchen table,

fading names scrawled on 

cracked backs of photos, pyramid

drown in the drift of dunes, tags

sandblasted by another hail of echoes.

Leaf bud in the new spring wind:

the whistle of our movement,

trace of the lost jawline,

wanting to know something of

what strangeness we believed.

In our shadow, the pace petty,

a cairn of unmatched shoes, coats

only a fool would have worn,                                                         

armless statues, pocked columns,

bits, bytes, footprints, strewn

stones of someone’s religion,

sepulchral pocket emptied of

lived lint and unlived hours.

I speak to myself.  Admission:

the city was rigged against me,

dimed and nickeled in cheap wine,

no one’s fault but the jackal—

I thought my way onto a highway

with no off-ramp circling

a mythical star, reciting todays

in a temple for tomorrows.


First morning post-op I come

to life alone at first light,

wash the sickness of dust

and charred crust of fear

from the sidewalk, root

deep against a dark sky

of expanding clouds.

I think of salutations…

We have this tomorrow.

I find your towel

from yesterday on

the edge of the bed,

still damp with your scent,

my every flesh drinking




Spoon Girl

The self we wish

Is not a self you’ve

Ever been or could be, 

And that’s okay.  So

Think of a cloud sprinkled

With spring, cucumber

And lavender, the voice

Of our grandson

Humming a song

Brimming butterflies and

Raspberry candy,

Lighter than that cloud

As he tosses a ball

For our dog, his notes

Hibiscus sweet on 

The ear’s tongue.

Take this morning’s spoon

You’ve been gifted

And ladle it dripping

With jam and laughter,

Stir in the plum of your lips

And a cardinal arcing

Across a dandelion field.

This hurts me:

You will never not hurt.

No dream can lift that

From the beautiful groove

Along your collarbone

Or reshape the cup

Of your skull to cease

The cerebellum’s descent.

The pain must be,

The fox squirrel or

Rat snake that pirates

The robin’s egg, deer fly

At the screen door,

Hare in the carrot patch.

I spoon you into midnight,

Root to valley, arm

Draping the moon 

Of your hip, hyacinth

Nape timeless drunk adrift. 

We will still dream,

Scoop deep in the sky,

Taste whatever fruit is sweet

And heavy on our vine.





What We Talk About When

We Talk About Love


Too many ways of looking 

At a blackbird tossed

In the autumn sky.

From the dry shadows

Of the bed from which

The sun cannot step,

Your whisper flits above:

I am free to leave.

First, a living will,

Power of attorney,

No machines or tubes,

We first discussed this 

When our hearts beat quick

In the raven’s glimmer,

A clatter of wings burst

At red clay and live oak—

Free to go.  

The wind knows all directions.

I wipe feces from crevices

My tongue once explored,

I scrape uneaten meals 

From cracked plates,

I dig arms under whatever

Is left to dig under—

So many ways of looking

At a blackbird thrown

In an autumn sky, life alit

In the few uncollapsed rivers 

Of your hands, and I consider

The offer, freedom, mine from

You or yours from me not clear.

Stand with me, survey the distance:

Blanched earth, seedless,

Scab stubble frozen pools,

Creek frozen in its sheets,

The only proof of life its absence:

The bank gives way beneath our feet,    

I grip the crest of your waist,

And one wing between us,

We take flight.




Saudade I


I watered your plants this morning.

I don’t know any of their names,

Just that they’re purple and red

And beautiful and need water,

And that you love them and that

Makes me love them too.

What I do know is 86 over 60,

Intercranial pressure, that the cerebellum 

Should not slide into the spinal column.

Of course, I do know one of the plants.

The hanging pot is filled with strawberries.

The sun has baked them ripe as your lips.

They are warm, tender to the tongue.

Delicious, needing water.


Love With a Dying Woman


The night we met our tongues

jigged an insatiable fingertip tango— 

we lapped ourselves full of our

deepest selves, a joyfest of fever and

delta wetland at the willing mouth 

of a great river.


Now, desire an abandoned

house on a dark treeless street.

Roof shorn, doors and windows

kicked in, burned beams exposed.

Blood heat turned guilt-fire letter,

feeble inquiry, do you think

you’re well enough tonight?

Pleasure trek off-ramped with pain—

    to do, to do, to do?


I see your face across the park.

The plum lips, toothy smile,

eyes warm as turned spring earth:

how lovely you truly are.

In the invalid gurney we’ve set up

in our living room, stairs to the king

sleigh bed overgrown in burr

and thistle, I brush your cheek.

Doe softness, but you cannot wake,

Tunneled deep into sleep.

I burrow into your side to wait out

the storm of the flesh’s misery.

Holding you for what is always

perhaps the last time, I am sure,

somewhere, you do the same.


5 Poems by John Jeffire

John Jeffire was born in Detroit.  In 2005, his novel Motown Burning was named Grand Prize Winner in the Mount Arrowsmith Novel Competition and in 2007 it won a Gold Medal for Regional Fiction in the Independent Publishing Awards.  Speaking of Motown Burning, former chair of the Pulitzer Jury Philip F. O'Connor said, “It works. I don't often say that, but it has a drive and integrity that gives it credible life....I find a novel with heart.” In 2009, Andra Milacca included Motown Burning in her list of “Six Savory Novels Set in Detroit” along with works by Elmore Leonard, Joyce Carol Oates, and Jeffrey Eugenides.  His first book of poetry, Stone + Fist + Brick + Bone, was nominated for a Michigan Notable Book Award in 2009.  Former U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine called the book “a terrific one for our city.”  His most recent book, Shoveling Snow in a Snowstorm, a poetry chapbook, was published by the Finishing Line Press in 2016.  For more on the author and his work, visit

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