The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


James Ellenberger

The Body Shop


At 83, removing her cowboy hat, Suzanna
winks, then closes her legs. Sloughed leather trappings
hang from slouched onlookers
like the gory brown velvet of a buck in rut.

            My father’s tanked
            for the first time
            since Vietnam, chain
            -smoking the room
            of bourbon, belting
            jukebox tunes
            in memory of his old man.

A bolo scorpion sealed
in amber swings
from Suzanna’s throat.

            (A scorpion falls into my father’s tumbler.)

She hacks through Pall Malls,
stamps them out with a bare heel.

            When Granddad saunters in
            with roses, crooning, weightless,
            I know that I’m dreaming—
            embracing, he and Suzanna vanish
            skin first, bones and all.

Then they’re all here, drunk and long dead.

            Herb crawls in a window
            lugging his movie-prop
            anchor, panting like it weighs a ton.
            Fox catcalls himself hoarse,
            his thick, fingerless fists licked
            clean of twenties. The others
            I can’t recognize; they’re dark.
            They’ve been coal a long time.

The jukebox stalls out

My father was a tumbler,
a black tongue in amber.



James Ellenberger

Burn Barrel Mysticism


The stray burning papers
crest like dawn’s

dorsal fins,
then evaporate

like a clean taste of apple.
That isn’t to say

it’s just one, or both,
but that a moment can only

hold fire so long
before it can’t hold anything else.



James Ellenberger

The Terrier's Ashes


When the urn gets knocked over,
the otherwise obedient ashes

bound into smoke
as soon as they hit the carpet,

and so Granddad falls to his knees
and tries to scoop

the filthy air and obsidian back in
with both hands

while everyone at once wants to gasp
and hold their breath

and the way I remember it he is
breathing in deeply.




JAMES ELLENBERGER's poems have appeared in Sou’Wester, Painted Bride Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Passages North, and Beloit Poetry Journal, among others. He’s pursuing a PhD at the University of Cincinnati, where he works as an assistant editor for the Cincinnati Review.



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