gut grief

there’s an older man, i know,
who sleeps among this thicket
with a face like mine,
eyes like mine, corporeal
form curled behind the curtain
of shadow at the heart
of spiderweb oak.

i have seen the night turn over
in its sleep, a wide black,
no forgiving star to cut
the even dark of canopy
apart, and i wonder
if this will be when i find his grave
and finally clear the path
between us,

upturn the sick of scripture
i spoke to him in tongues
but swallowed back, hid,
in the tar of my own throat.

i am no man carved
from the shadow of his frame,
yet still, i wonder,


fingers crossed
i’m sitting on the concrete step
of my front porch at midnight
when i catch the young man
who lives across the street kick
open his backyard gate
and saunter out upon the lawn
pushing a heavy load of sunshine
in a wheelbarrow.

he wipes the sweat off
his forehead, forced to bask
in the sweet of the yellow
heat, and leads his goods
to the edge of the curb
where he then pours it wholesale
into the gutter, product sifting
without fanfare through the lip
of overgrown weeds, singing
its usual heaven-sent hum
into the deep of grime
and shade, becoming an echo
of itself.

i used to call this a waste.
i used to consider the worst crime
to be the ruining of something
made from one’s hands: warm
and welcome gifts like fresh
bread, carvings and clay,
letters sent to lovers with a blush
of perfume. but the sunlight digs
deep in its own grave, through
the cracks of the concrete belly,
and bends the ancient knuckles
of its hand around the wet mulch
beneath the neighborhood’s
collective lawn. a type
of recycled good i haven’t
seen or felt anywhere else.

i stop to wonder
if somewhere on the other side
of this empty suburban street
there exists in my neighbor’s
wheelbarrow a blueprint
for the type of mourning
that’s spurned from wasted
chances, from hands held out
palm-up with an invitation
never taken; if in the world
there exists instructions
for a forgiveness that comes
when the worst of the ruining
has long since passed. i wait
every night to see if
my neighbor leaves it behind
so i may find those words
and earn them.

when he roughly
drags that wheelbarrow back
behind the gate and disappears
without a single word
into the confines of his own
home, i think, i hope,
that from this loss
a new grass will grow.

oh little nebula, brain in the moon,
i’ve counted the inches of space between myself
and the roof of night, swallowed them
until the bright white glow of secondhand sun
crowns the atmosphere, until every constellation
of contented stars rains wet and hot
upon the upturned mulch of my backyard,
their sight akin to pen clicks, knuckles
popping, fleeting and gone before they start.
i am the son of a father who never claimed
that name, absence insisting
i draw maps that trail nowhere, faces
that belong to no one, and i wonder
if there is a truth in the back of every brain
that we ignore until it hurts us, mind eaten
by sleep and smoke, forced by a falling
sky to finally address the one thing inside us
that could kill. there are nonsense psalms transcribed
in those secret journals of my misspent youth,
and when the words are turned inside out,
nonsense texts becoming postcards,
i see his name in the verses, a to:

is that enough?
i’ve drawn enough eyes to know
how the nose and mouth are meant to follow,
but in one journal a hard stare returns
on me half finished,
cut off by the news
of how he shifted from is to was.
the sketch then blinded from detail
by a window flood of sun
on the milk white page.
i think to myself
if i don’t move,
maybe it won’t be true,
myself stuck until night
to gather the truth of my own
last message to him
among a heap of stars


Andrew Gillis is a student at Stephen F. Austin State University and is working towards a BFA in Creative Writing. He’s been published in the literary undergrad journal HUMID three times before, and he lives in Nagocdoches, Texas.

gut grief, fingers crossed, and oh little nebula, brain in the moon, were first published in Issue 15 of Apeiron Review.

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