Traveling poem

Migration

I drove across the United States
with my dog in the backseat
sometimes putting his nose
out the window I rolled down
so he could smell the intricacies
of each landscape we passed
like a customer wafting perfume cards
in some ephemeral beauty salon.

Here is a highway covered with soot
and tire-blackened snow along its edges.
Here is a cleft shorn and blasted
through this mountain to make way for our
future ambivalence to its rocky cliffs
and its hanging curtains of fanged and frozen teeth.
Here is a desolate moonscape
of flat tilled earth stretched to every horizon
broken only by the gray boards
of a dilapidated barn storing god-knows-what
in the middle of so much nothing.

Everywhere electrical wires
spanning pole to crooked pole
linking years upon years
of forgotten voices and tragedies yet to be,
linking travelers like pushpins
in a map of destinations connected with strings.
This road once used by serial killers
and hitchhikers and preachers and pioneers.
This road once used by carnivals of nomads
by the broken and the hopeful
by the faithful and the damned.
This road littered with beer cans
and dead dogs and empty shopping bags.

Once we passed a dump truck
hoisting up a deer carcass
with a pulley and steel cables,
its bed already full of twisted and rotting bodies,
brown and white fur matted with splotches
of that bright red liquid life
we all take for granted
for staying
trapped beneath our skin.

Bitterness FTW

Bitterness Poetica

I’m no poet, just a petulant child
with a pad and a pen
and a Macbook Pro, where every keystroke
is the embodiment of a scream
caught in a wind I somehow find myself in
like a loose cilantro leaf
stuck to the tooth of some beautiful woman
who only desires to bite my cheek
until it bleeds.

Oh, how I wish Danez Smith
would punch me in the face.
Then, it would be self-defense
when I make him eat his words
like glass shards
from a vodka bottle
tossed into the street
for the careless feet of dogs.

Fuck this community of clones
and would-be has-been’s
using the bullied and broken
piles of formerly closeted bones
for their soapbox sophistry
and self-righteous posturing
of career highlight reels gone wrong.

I wonder, have you even seen the mountains?
Have you seen the way moss ignores
the northern side of any stone
wetted enough with rain?
Have you seen the moon skewer itself
like a fish hook through the clouds
spilling its light over the tops of trees
like ivory clad chaos,
meant to drive the heart
through every guardrail of madness?
Maybe just stop and look around
at how everything dies
the same meaningless way
amid so much beauty.

Censored reviewed by Robert Peate

CENSORED: a Review by Robert Peate

Jay Sizemore is a poet who has been through a lot of grief for his poetry. In 2015, he wrote a poem called “Scowl”, riffing off the format but not the substance of Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl”, and some readers objected to his word and persona choices as he critiqued American society, particularly censorship and shaming. Mr. Sizemore suffered so much abuse for this poem that he decided to show his critics both how they had made him feel, turning the tables to illustrate poetically what he felt they had done to him, and how wrong it was to treat anyone in the ways they had treated him—by amplifying his persona into what they had accused him of being, as if to say, “You think I’m a monster? Here is a real monster, and the real monster is you [this is what you did to me].” He then released Misogynist, a collection of poems critiquing the Patriarchy via the persona of a man who hates women. To say this subtlety was misunderstood would be an understatement. Mr. Sizemore, for playing only too well the part his critics had assigned him, was then assumed to be even worse than they had thought and accused of every abuse under the Sun except perhaps murder. His career was adversely affected as well-meaning fools ran to “warn” the poetry community against him, when poets are the ones who need protection from lynch mobs both real and virtual. Not only were they wrong, they raced to behave in exactly the censorious ways Mr. Sizemore had critiqued. Due to the outcry of those who felt “threatened” by his using their names on his poems, he was even forced to change his poetry names by Amazon. His work polarized even as his points were missed, and to comply with Amazon’s request, he re-released Misogynist without the names as CENSORED. This is a brilliant work maligned by those who cannot see the forest for the trees, and its entire message is that of nonviolence. It is amazing how people can understand just enough not to understand something and run with the misunderstanding, but as Jane Austen said, “Vanity working on a weak head produces every sort of mischief.” The vanity in this case was the presumption his critics understood what they did not.

This book is a classic indictment of the Patriarchy employing satire, satire that at times has been misunderstood as serious.

Mr. Sizemore has said, “The point of the poems is although the poems are violent and offensive, and the people who want to see such work censored from the public think they are acts of violence, no actual violence has been committed, and their reactions to the work prove the inanity of their response. And thus the mindset that goes into advocating for censorship.”

From “A Modest Proposal” to All in the Family, satire has always been a risky business, yielding responses from those who took the satire as serious. The risk is compounded when one’s tone is not insouciant but brooding and menacing to add to the performance, to illustrate the wrongs that need to be righted. This is why some thought it a good idea to eat homeless orphans, that Archie Bunker was a hero, or that Jay Sizemore was the monster he depicted, though no one ever accused Stephen King of being “It”. This is why Mr. Sizemore himself, having experienced the initial wave of hatred and angst when Misogynist was misunderstood, saw fit to write in big letters in the front of his revised work, “THIS IS A WORK OF SATIRE. SATIRE!” To be fair, with poetry titles such as “Kill All Women”, it is easy to see why his work of all works would need to come with such a notice.

“Kill All Women”, the first poem in the set, lists the ways in which a world without women would be different. The narrator seems pleased to list reasons why we don’t need women, problems with relationships and responsibility we could do without, and what we do with possessions we no longer need or want. He says the woman of the future will not exist, “having gone the way of the cassette tape/and the fond memory of the brothel/where you once got a blowjob with your cup of coffee.” The patriarch narrator seems at the end to remember at least carnal pleasure if not the satisfactions of romantic love, but the entire poem, from beginning to end, is an indictment of the Patriarchy treating women as commodities. The narrator imagines that women are the problem, but it is clear that his attitude is. This is intentional. Yes, a world without women would feature far fewer of the problems he cites, but the ultimate larger problem of loneliness and alienation, only marginally acknowledged by the narrator, would outweigh all else. His slight nod to the fond memories of the past, the short shrift he gives to any sort of human relationship, however, serves to show there is much more left unsaid. While it is easy to see how a less-than-careful reading of such a poem could yield misunderstanding and outrage, it is easier to see that a careful reading yields a critique of the ownership of women. The actual message of the poem is that to kill all women would be to kill all joy. Without explicitly stating how undesirable a world without women would be, the narrator’s realizations and lack thereof speak for themselves.

In the very next poem, “Not a Metaphor”, the Virgin Mary attacks the narrator as if a vampire. He defends her and himself, saying, “You are not a metaphor for all women, as I am not the tyranny of evil men.” Hearing these words and remembering herself, Mary is then liberated from her god and church, from the Patriarchy, free to be herself, “as we fuck like dogs/who enjoy raping one another/in the most animal sense of the word.” The narrator is liberated too, from the burden of being associated with the Patriarchy that enslaved her and all womankind. This represents a positive triumph over society and tradition, as Mary and the narrator overcome all else for the pleasure of self and the other. “The most animal sense of the word” does not include human concepts of informed consent but implies, rather, the completely carnal instinct that uses the partner as a vehicle of release—without subjugation. Amazingly, some read this poem as advocating rape, when what it does is advocate freedom from the Patrarichy for both men and women. It becomes harder to see how this could be misunderstood. One can only imagine that preconceived notions have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. We see what we wish to see.

Titles such as, “How to Make People Hate You”, “Hate Me ‘Cause You Ain’t Me”, “How to Gut a Panda”, and even “How to Make Love (by Jack the Ripper)” make it hard to see these poems as anything other than sardonic/sarcastic/facetious witticisms encapsulated in time-release forms, yet some manage to do so.

The fact is, there is violence in these poems, but as in Shakespeare, the violence serves the message of peace, and there is much more going on in them than violence. It takes but looking to see what is there.

In some of the poems, the poet adopts a violent persona, in others he defends himself against violence. But each poem represents a battle, a struggle, with a different outcome. To dismiss this collection as trash is to reveal one’s own ignorance and prejudices. It is nothing of the sort. Jay Sizemore is a Rich White American Straight Man employing the powers of his privileges to fight injustice by holding it up to the scorching white light of criticism in the form of satire. Not everyone has the stomach for such challenging art, and Mr. Sizemore’s nouns, verbs, and adjectives are not for the faint of heart, but his work is first rate.

Where I come from, if one person says, “You misunderstood me,” the other person asks how. In this case, we have readers who dare to say, “No, I didn’t.” The author explicitly states his work is misunderstood and explains what it means, yet readers say they know better than the man who wrote it? We are to condemn him as violent, not those who deny the author his agency and right to declare his own meaning and intent? What kind of backward world is this? These same critics claim to oppose the denial of agency while denying Mr. Sizemore his? Oh, the hypocrisy.

We read for knowledge and hope wisdom will come on its own. Books cannot provide it. Writers hope readers will bring wisdom to the table, but they don’t always. Jay Sizemore’s poetry is a bold, provocative statement to a world that is often not ready. Shakespeare advised writing to please the one person of discernment in the back row who knew better than the rabble. That is what Jay Sizemore does. Let us hope it does not get him killed in the end.

In “How to Make People Hate You” Mr. Sizemore argues that the way to make people hate you is to tell the truth. Honesty is apparently not always the best policy. When you tell the truth, you bleed from the wounds you suffer, but because you told the truth, you are yourself to blame. “You see, you have been biting your own hand/and then complaining about the pain.” If you are punished for telling the truth, you should not complain. The reception to his poems proves that he knows of what he speaks, and while he does not complain of fair criticism, he certainly criticizes the unfair.

“Shambella Cinderella” is the first poem in the collection that contains flaws worth mentioning. It is borne of a great idea, critiquing Cinderella’s role in the Patriarchy without blaming her: “Cinderella, you once were beautiful just how you were/but the mirror convinced you you deserved much more/You sold your soul for a castle in the distant clouds.” This is a great indictment of the Patriarchy, and her fate is accordingly cruel to add to the indictment, but there are minor details missing: what is her cause of death, and who were the culprits? I think a stanza on the Prince’s motivations would have been helpful. As it is, we are left with the ephemeral “They dumped you ruined, in the forest alone.” Others might not mind the lack of detail as much as I did; that is just how my mind works.

I could survey each poem in the collection, but I will end with the dystopian vision of “Immaculate Ejaculation”. “This is the fate of an entire gender,” the poet explains, “to exist for another’s pleasure/her body parts displaced/and used to build some elaborate machine/that even Lovecraft would cower in fear of.” This machine, the Great Masturbation Mechanism, possesses women’s severed heads rotating on “the cocks of Patriarchy”. Certainly no one could take this as praise of the Patriarchy but an accurate description of how the entire world has created a fearsome female-enslavement machine. Does it really need explaining that if even Lovecraft would cower in fear of it, it is worse than Cthulhu? I have seen very few works that encapsulate the Patriarchy with such an effective nightmarish image. Of course, most readers seem not to have reached this breathtaking vision. Most readers seem to have stopped after the first two stanzas, in which the anonymous narrator announces his intention to create the machine because the woman’s “usual holes ripe for fucking are all used up.” When he announces that a woman’s “life means nothing”, he means on this evil Earth.

Mr. Sizemore should be hailed as a saint for taking on the Patriarchy with such ferocious criticism. How would the Taliban like to hear they live for masturbation, employing women as sex devices? What would they do to anyone who said that?

It should be mentioned that in the first version of this book, Misogynist, Mr. Sizemore named some of his poems after his real-life antagonists. Naturally, this did not go over well. Strangely, some of them felt threatened enough to complain to Amazon, which forced Mr. Sizemore to rename his poems and book. Mr. Sizemore explained regarding the poetry-name issue: “The names I used are first names of people who have targeted me and worked to blacklist me from a secret Facebook group. The poems themselves of course have no real connection to anyone, but I used those first names knowing those people would find them and assume they were about them, because of what they accused me of in the past. They used that accusation to ruin my writing career, so I hoped they would believe I wrote about them as a play on their previous accusations. It was a sort of purposeful martyrdom for free speech.” He tricked and taunted them to show what haters they were, and it worked. Unfortunately, this came at the price of suffering fools with pitchforks.

Some mention is made of people feeling threatened by Mr. Sizemore sending them his book. He says, “For the record, I only sent two people a copy of the book, and they were supposed to be my friends. Also, I had sent them all my books. And I had told them I would finish the book despite everyone freaking out and that I would send it to them when done, so it wasn’t like a threat, just a fulfillment of my project.” It is clear there has been much misunderstanding of Mr. Sizemore, his work, and his intentions. As someone who has been misunderstood himself, though not to the same degree, I can relate to this.

The best art challenges us to discuss, understand, and fight evil, often by highlighting abuses. Jay Sizemore’s recent poetry collection CENSORED is in this category. It is strong, not for everyone, but it is not anti-women. It is pro-reconciliation. Or, as another acquaintance said, readers who can’t read worry me.

P. S. For writing this review, I was told I was “trolling the lit community”. For saying I was a member of the global community of writers and artists, I was told, “I get that you write, but that doesn’t make you a ‘member’ of anything but Jay’s fan club.” Such a statement would be laughable if it weren’t such a frightening attempt at intellectual tyranny.

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.