The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


John Fitzgerald



Joe Smith doesn’t like to be touched.
No shaking hands or hugging.
No looking into his eyes to steal his thoughts.
Step into his mind he’ll hang you.
We’re not the same species.
There’s no belief in sanctity of life.
If a child’s drowning let it sink.
It’s not worth ruining his shoes.

He’s a human on earth, with the right
to a chance at life granted by birth,
stuck here by gravity and fate.
He spends all day waiting for night.
Scientific proof of his superiority is called a “complex.”
If he did nothing else worthwhile today, he loved the ocean.
He thanks whatever intelligence makes him thankful,
and curses whatever demons make him curse.

To sit and think is laziness—write that shit down.
He likes to be underestimated.
He knows everything, just hasn’t had time to remember it all.
Eliminates all other destinations to end up where he’s going.
He hates it when anyone says “May I ask you a question?”
The answer is you already did.

Joe Smith wonders why he can’t do what everyone else does,
but must sit here writing his every thought.

Joe Smith daydreams looking out windows, like a cat at crows.
He finds it impractical and stupid to be wrong,
precisely in proportion to the degree of wrongfulness.
There is only one best move at any moment.
He was pavonine before, but has become even more perfect,
if you pay no attention to the meanings of words.
Heredity is nonsense. The child of a slave can be a genius,
and the son of a king an idiot.



John Fitzgerald

Counting Sheep


Joe Smith joined the Navy straight out of high school.
Anything to get away from Art.
After basic he was stationed on the USS Laboon
in the Carl Vinson Carrier Battle Group.
The Arleigh Berke–class destroyer was first to engage in combat
Operation Desert Strike,
launching Tomahawk Cruise missiles
to protect Kurds from Iraqis.

An apprentice seaman, Joe Smith helped maintain the ship.
Some sailor went missing during his stint,
gone overboard, everyone supposes, there is no clue.
Joe Smith received a medical discharge under honorable conditions.
Something about his mind they didn’t like.
He doesn’t think he thinks too much,
and may even confuse it with feeling.
In the end though, he doubts himself to be sure,

and can’t accept that anyone is ever really
rolling on the floor laughing their ass off.
He’s never once even laughed out loud,
nevertheless pleased one of the people most of the time.
He believes he does not know enough
to believe everything he knows,
and just wants to think something new.
Failure to recognize bias is a bias in itself,

so God lets Joe Smith ignore him. Even love is selfish.
Pain is weakness leaving the body.
If this moment has a name,
he stands alone on earth and calls it.
When there’s a million ways, to choose only one seems inhuman.
For lack thereof he’s coyote again.
To the weary with a spell, sheep count themselves.
Let us double each other then run out of room.




JOHN FITZGERALD is an award-winning poet, editor, and federal appeals attorney for the disabled. His most recent books are Favorite Bedtime Stories and The Mind, both from Salmon Poetry. He’s been widely published in journals and anthologies. He was editor of the Law Review.



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