On Charles Manson’s death

When it is wrong to mourn the dead
~after Charles Manson’s death

Even forgiveness has its limits,
ask the mothers, ask the fathers,
ask the brothers and sisters
of the dead, the voices stilled
in the throats of the young,
the beautiful faces laid to rest
before their smiles drew lines
around happy mouths.

Tonight, there are monsters
crawling into heaven
with knives between their teeth.
There are madmen convincing angels
to carve X’s into their flesh.
There are wild-eyed demagogues
telling children they worship false gods,
and to burn is to live free
like vibrating cells exposed
to catalytic chemicals.

What is a cult, except the pinnacle of belief?
To smell the blood-soaked carpet
and feel unafraid of ghosts
though those ghosts carry chains
linked to the rusty cage of rage?
This martyrdom is not self-aware.
It’s a false flag, an insect
made tyrant, made giant
under the magnified lens
of historical inaccuracy.

I do not take joy or pleasure
from the texture of soot and ash
rubbed between the fingers
of an ambivalent universe,
just more smoke in my eyes
as these senseless candles scorch
and smolder their wicks,
leaving only that fragrant filament
of death, and a black cloud
billowing like a distant forest fire
waiting for the wind to bring it closer,
close enough to feel the heat
of that hungry thing that waits
for all of us in time.

Poem for mass shootings 

Copy and Paste Condolences

by Jay Sizemore


The residents of ______________ need our love,

in this time of unavoidable tragedy,

if only the sky would open itself

like a great swan unfurling its wings

to swaddle the grieving

and protect them from the rain,

the thunder and storm of their own

unburdened sobs.


We send our thoughts and prayers to them,

the buoys bobbing, lonesome and jettisoned

in the rough waves of this tiresome wake.

Let them be calmed by the notion

that loneliness is an illusion

in the absence of concern,

while our hearts carry their hearts

like hot air balloons gathering stones

in tethered baskets

until too heavy to float.


These stones are hardened eggs

warmed by the sun,

and this is a cycle of catch and release,

of nature and nurture,

of wound and suture and scar,

the abused given new life in the afterbirth of pain,

hatching from sorrow stronger than before

with haunted eyes remembering the wind

and how it carried them away

from everything hidden beneath the sea,

hot air balloons once again free to soar

and look for more lost souls to rescue.


Perhaps it’s too much to ask

that we forget what happened here

knowing what blood tomorrow holds

like a vein in a palm

that closes upon a fistful of glass,

the shattered remnants of a non-violent future,

the window we broke believing

it was the only way to breathe the air. 

Poem for gun lovers

Nothing that could be done

I remember my first paper cut,

when I was just four years old,

I went to the school nurse

for some kind of care, maybe just a band-aid

or the warm reassuring smile

of an adult who understood the world,

but instead she said, with her face so grim,

there’s just nothing to be done.

Let it bleed, she told me,

these things heal themselves.

And I looked at the red drops

like breadcrumbs shining

my way back to class,

stark constellations so bold and dark

against the sterile white tile,

and I believed her.


Again, in middle school, I fell,

my hands still stinking of rust and steel

from gripping swing set chains so tight

the links left white indentations

in my palms that flamed red upon release,

and the sound of my wrist snapping

was that of a dried twig

under the foot of a careless hunter

spooking away his prey.

My mother took me to the doctor

where they didn’t even bother with an X-ray,

just again with their go-to phrase,

Nothing to be done, broken bones mend

with time and the soothing song of the wind,

so the rest of my life I lived

with a crooked arm I could not use

except as a crude tool for propping up my face,

but my belief in medicine remained unchanged.


I sat at my mother’s bedside

and listened to the way her lungs

struggled like refugee swimmers

whose life vests were made

to absorb the ocean instead of float,

and I pleaded to the specialists,

I pleaded to the surgeons

with their walls full of degrees,

their photo albums full

of pristine family portraits

with every grin warm as a sun

meant to go on for endless days,

their manicured hands perfect

and poised as if penmanship

were their own secret language

of prayer, as if it were a privilege

to hold a clipboard and scribble fates

so different from their own,

and they said it again and again

like the mantra of the damned,

I’m sorry son, cancer is just a gun,

and I’m afraid there’s simply nothing,

nothing to be done. 

Strike while the iron is hot

Inspired

Ever wake up in the skin of a pig?
Maybe you forgot to pay the water bill,
feeling like a river that flows to both ends.

Feeling like the threads through a button
sewed into a stranger’s coat.
Carrying the new scars of the frantic dog
who just wants to be loved the same way.

These women wish you would just die,
they’d like to feast on your white meat,
a fine pork twisted and turned over the spit
until it drips its clear delicate juices.

I am not god any more than another acoustic guitar
leaned in the corner of a corporate junky,
and you are a voice in the walls.

One more mountain on the moon,
one more interstellar collision
sending ripples through the cosmos
like a heart attack numbing the left arm.

I love my enemy and their unflinching resolve
to break me open
like a fresh stick of Dr. Tom’s deodorant,
smelling of green mint and death.

I’m a feminist and a dental hygienist,
you are a serial killer of words,
you are the reason I keep writing them down.

An irrational fear leads to irrational deeds

Fear of words

I’m afraid of words, and what they might do.
Rape, as a word, cannot be trusted,
with its r it uses as a rivet
to shackle thin wrists and twist,
its a it ambulates over frantic mouths
like a palm to smother and stifle screams,
its p it puts between legs and pries
so the e can explore
like an ether or ejaculate that enters
where it is most unwanted.

Kill, maim, murder, lie,

all must be made archaic,
must be stricken from our tongues
to prevent future harm,
such grievous perils spoken
can never be undone.
To even whisper them
renders them powerful,
like a trigger in a gun
tethered to loose lips
just waiting to be sprung.

A poem is so heavy now,
it can never be lifted from the page.
There are libraries filled with obscenities
sinking like cities built upon damp paper streets.
We must put a torch
to the pyre before it burns us,
before it makes us feel
what we felt before as pain,
these words, these words shouldn’t exist,
shouldn’t open doors we want locked in our brains,

so pass the gasoline and pass the blindfold,
pass the blank white sheet
of our sterile refrain,
and come closer.
We can’t see our breath now,
but it’s cold, cold, cold in our bones,
so stay where its warm, here by the flame.

A poem about self-delusionment

How we convince ourselves we are right

My pain is no more important than your pain,
and your pain is no more important than mine.
What is this life, but a thin veil of inconsistencies?

You turn yourself into a platitude for justice,
a self-replicating viral meme
of the latest in social outrage.

These are the screws turning in your wrists,
pinning you to the cross of self-indulgence,
to the pyre of broke down birdhouses,

this kindling made martyrdom appealing
for the self-righteous holy ghosts
wanting nothing but to die for vanity.

It’s fallacy and fallibility made into sacrament.
The human condition leaves little room
for another consciousness inside its skull.

Where does the truth lie?
Somewhere, out there, beyond this moment.
This history is impermanent.

So, make your police reports out of jealousy.
Build your narratives out of decay.
Nothing will last, not even words like these.

There is no pain like yours, as there is none like mine.
We are living the same dream outside our bodies.
We just want the same things we can’t have.

My feminism

My feminism

You didn’t ask for these words,

but neither did I. 

My brain is tattooed with memories

even a laser could not remove.

My mother dragged from my room.

My sister put back in her bed,

his belt buckle still open

and clinking like a monster’s teeth,

a monster made of hairpins and bottle caps.


Here is his fist. Here is the bruise.

Here are the bruises you cannot see,

living inside me like incessant ocean waves.


I feel like my face lives behind your face,

a face you’ve carved out of shadows and malice,

a face you created with your fingertips

in your blindness, searching for your father

or your rapist, or your college boyfriend

who let you drink too much

on a Thursday so you wouldn’t remember

where you left your panties.


I am not that face. I am the face of my eight year old self,

boiling with rage after a stranger

smacked my sister on the school bus,

the stranger who wore a black eye for weeks after

only because I was too young

to break his bones, and a grownup

rushed from her trailer to pull us apart before I could

make his mouth fill with blood.


I’m the boy chased from the playground

day after day, tripping over my own feet,

and being kicked by the rough boot heels

of those with a ferocity outpacing their growth spurts.


I’m the man becoming a boy becoming a man,

standing at the edge of personhood

and wondering where to step,

which way leads to the abyss

and which way leads to the light

that might illuminate these futures

and show my face to the world. 

Poem Response to Las Vegas and Tom Petty

When the music breaks your heart

by Jay Sizemore


No one expects a heartbreaker

to die of a broken heart,

and are we really going to fall for it again,

this narrative of the lone gunman,

devoid of motive

while those highest in power

pluck and snap the rusty piano strings

of an America in need of a transplant?


These deaths are so senseless and yet

so anonymous, so faceless and separate,

removed from the scenery of our lives

like extras from a movie

we barely pay attention to,

just bodies shuffled through revolving doors

but beneath sheets so their forms

may as well be made from loosely piled stones.


This is what we are now.

Just actors in a play we refuse to acknowledge

because the reality might destroy us.

It’s so much simpler to mourn celebrities.

It’s so much easier to pretend

that the air we breathe isn’t poison,

that the television screen

and its newsfeed scrolling

would never tell us lies.


Just keep buying the product.

Just keep binge watching these stories

of super-human deeds

done by super-human versions

of your super-human selves.

And when you hear that song on the radio,

the one about belonging “somewhere you’ll feel free,”

just close your eyes and imagine it so. 

Someday I’ll love Jay Sizemore

Someday I will love Jay Sizemore

Forty years goes by before you are ready
and then you’re married with two cats and a dog,
a mortgage and two car payments
and two spare bedrooms to park the boxes
and the books and the guitars and the poster tubes
filled with old drawings from those days
before arthritis and an elbow like a rusty trap.

Your mother spent the night in the ER
coughing up blood
and didn’t tell you until later in the week
like a birthday card filled with
someone else’s handwriting
arriving a month late, because it went to
the wrong address in another state,
as if to say, these will never reach you in time
where you are going, and while you are away
the people you love will become
doppelgangers of the people you loved.

But isn’t this the age of video chat
and the era of the private prison
where our lives have become slaves
to the technology of interconnectivity?
Isn’t this the right time to live stream
your every emotional breakdown?
It’s like reinventing something
as sacrosanct as the rain.

For as long as I can remember
I’ve been in some kind of pain,
painting pictures with words
about the reasons a person can never
feel whole and wholly themselves,
a scent of decay creeping into
every new thing, and did you know
old books collect tiny insects
to create that odor you love so much?

I’m finding my way like a duckling
dropped down a drain
must discover that instinctual drive
to navigate north until it hears the cries
of those lost and familiar voices
that have been calling him home
since before he knew
what the voices of his family
sounded like on the wind.

NEW POEM

Life Lessons in Dog Walking

My dog always stops
to smell the roses
blooming or not blooming
by my neighbor’s mailbox,
as if to say, there’s beauty here
even if you can’t see it,
just wait.

Every new scent must be cataloged,
inspected and identified,
from the honeysuckle falling
over a church’s park fence
to the latest piece of roadside trash
discarded from a reckless window
with hints of the owner still attached.

Every new face must be greeted
with a smile
and an unencumbered joy
that swells through the body
like hot air inside a balloon,
as if to say, oh, you live here too,
isn’t it wonderful?

There’s awe to be found
in the mundane
sight and sound
that is anything but mundane,
unbridled pleasure
released in each discovery
of this, an ordinary life.