The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Ryan Harper

Offender

 
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law”

 

I. No Golf Carts on Road

laughing all the way (Ha! Ha! Ha!)

Add a nametag and lanyard
to the polo shirt and khakis,
he could drive straight
into the White House.
These are quiet roads,
anyway; what does it matter
if he winds himself
through the courts and cul-de-sacs
innocent, forgiving as a children’s
menu maze—and his children
so enjoy it:
oh what fun it is to dash
your way through settings
laid out specially for you—
to ride between the lines,
in the middle of the road.



II. Tables are for Paying Customers

All the time she is here—
laptop, smartphone, bluetooth,
ornaments of remote investment,

charged and charging,
ranging one table today
(some days it is two),

absorbed, as I must seem,
in some distant call:
the art of looking badass

after the white fashion,
like someone who could sue,
write a devastating online review

            I will take my business elsewhere
the great white threat:
to withhold what you never give.

Sudden cadenzas of stock quotes,
ultimatums, equivalences
that sound false this side of things:

tired snarls, no forte to them
but pressed enough for us to note
she will never note us until

            Could you watch my things while
(Restroom is for Paying Customers)
all the time she asks, all the time

I am partner to her crime—
so blunt, so easy; her things
yield less interest than she knows.

            The barista rolls his eyes toward me,
one of his regular witnesses,
after she asks for another

glass of water (his eyes have this much
justice left). All the time I hear him
ask darker people to leave

who have clearer reasons to stay.
He does not ask her, nor I,
            who orders all the time, and who will pay.



III. You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

where were you when peace broke out

inside a mall luminous
ferreting on frozen coffee
cursive caramel drizzles
easing by slurps into whipped cream

inside a good school
drug safe to calculus
pressed and trimmed
for the AP release
enough credit to turn you
into a sophomore

inside a hood with character
renewal’s blackworked groundtroops
creating perimeters, pouring over
green parties of food tourists,
latest revival babel from the old
storefronts for the best prosciutto
call not unclean what the lord hath made


inside a sanctuary
brohood of the wounded hearts
full moon yawp of old adams
becoming new, delay
pedals wahs too deep for words—
projection, submission, projection—
turned palms’ slight stigma clawing ceiling-
ward toward confession without admission,
reeling toward the exit, across asphalt-
waving august earthlight uneasy
departures of the risen dead

I was there
prophesying peacemaker
in your name



IV. Do Not Feed the Wildlife

Some owed solitude,
some loneliness.
They meet awfully
much for balance:

born on a refuge,
a fire pit,
come so far by faith
or the worn paths,

some bodies begin
to take their best
ideas for solid
ground—to live feed

approach retreat site
surely, as you
would your own. All yours,
the refuge: paw

the hive, capture film
on tips—some come
to believe mortal
things: hands like these

extend charity
always, only.
Then it is finished.
Then some must die.



V. You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Terrific stalagmitic drips
rowed sheer before
humming, flickering beams:
now sanctuary scored
open, alarming gallery
of the cased solvents;
now pit—deep densities fuel
the smallness, the awful
smallness of filled space,
jaundiced rings alight,
the gold cell shoots out,
turns inward

o for a total darkness to tame
the eyes’ vast repertoires
of knowing: o for a thousand
tongues of fire to port
the cooling sponge through
the universe’s furnaces,
annulling, in bold light,
if possible, even the elect-
-ricity, beyond hope, radiance

Picture a cave, and
this is a white dwarf:
ghastly, blistering
node of lambent,
bursting skeins, exhausting
ancient vaults of power,
indulgent to its core,
stellar: remnant: dying:



VI. You Shall Not Kill

Austin Harrouff

unless there is no reason;
then it is art for art’s sake:
high drama of high crime:

corpses, canvases, opportunities
for a performance piece.

So dexterous—do you even lift
a pound of flesh
or does it freely dislodge
itself from your media,
ascend to your mouth,
amass in the heroic
diet, as must all lesser flesh?

Take them in: bloody cereal
of faces, on your face,
your blade, shocked
late before your resolve,
lost and open into
the higher opus.

Turn your eye to us,
this mordant moment
in the act,

take us in, your gagging patrons
who will deliver you,
try you after the fact:
the vitreous humor
in your smile reminds us
if you could explain it
you would not have to do it.

Like all of the greats
you hear and defy
the mad accusations
before they arrive,
dare us to detect
artificial substance
in your system
(we cannot)

Groaning, shaking
our heads as we must
before the Masters,
knowing truly
you are an ancient,
of Greek society,
we prepare a place for you—

we, the eyes of Columbos,
squinting, patting
your shoulder
as we take you in
as we must
as credits run



VII. All Dogs Must Be On Leash In Park

eighty-five percent
have not learned their lesson

            obeys basic commands

sorry sorry sorry
bells jingling,
sniffs a stranger’s crotch,
tail stiffens, stranger draws in
don’t worry he’s friendly

            renders affection

overlights black
solitude that would cut
if we could withstand it
white despair; we are
not withstanding people

            does not snap

this is a dog-friendly space
who on earth does not like dogs

            takes discipline well

stranger later picked up
matches description
of unfriendly
sniffer of strangers,
bells jingling, locked up

            is good with other dogs

eighty-five percent one day
will learn what it means
to hold an empty leash,
saying sorry sorry sorry



VIII. You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself
who would be greatest
works about bodies:

fastens to the far
and closing ones, loops

a bond slack, lets out
and takes in—one sweep

into the next broad
round of alignments

world blue consortiums
wax open, unsure:

constant deposits
of security:

demo: reviso:
losses, yours and ours,

greatest unfolding
unto body whole

tending toward hope,
in hope, with hope.

Is this your homework,
who would be greatest?



IX. You Shall Not Kill

Rudy Eugene

unless there is no reason.
Black is a reason.



X. You Shall Not Kill

unless there is a reason:

The wells drained again
this summer—again
we are standing over holes
in the ground, and I know
that there are angles
hips can turn to make
heads look level
though the entire body
is cocked, the earth given
to slant: that one
an upright animal
given to decline,
one in running is made
suspect, one crawls
aggressively, one hoist
in mad repair, one
just cause he wanted,
one hoarse protest
from the pavement, head
open, slayed: all due force.
The body, a crook
in the neck, stands to reason:
as many can matter
as live—so few live.

 

 

 

RYAN HARPER is a visiting assistant professor in New York University’s Religious Studies Program. Some of his recent poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming at Kestrel, Mississippi Review, Appalachian Heritage, Berkeley Poetry Review, Killing the Buddha, Urban Farmhouse Press, and elsewhere. Ryan’s ethnography of contemporary southern gospel music will appear via the University Press of Mississippi in 2017, and his poetry chapbook, Memphis Left at Cairo (2013) is available through Finishing Line Press.

 

 

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