“Dear Phil,” by Jeff Whitney

Jeff Whitney


Spring and I’m on my perch doing my courtship dance
to the stars asking for poems and accolades and a thousand
pages with my name written over and over. It’s simple
to want one thing so much you strap a bomb to your chest
and shake hands with strangers. Don’t blame god for this mess
but don’t take him out of the equation entirely. I’m walking around
like a pink bird trying to find the hidden caterpillar, attempting to speak
phantom, doing my best impression of a man all but crowned.
What’s it like in your kingdom? Disposal still broken, the town drunk
still calling you queer? How much have you lost on a single bet
you wouldn’t gladly turn to pennies and flatten like dominoes
on a track back to Missouri? When you say “a milk in this world
sweet enough to last” I get so jealous I want to put you in a hot air
balloon and send you to Mars and write my name on your poems.
Of course, history is full of people like that. Grifters and short-
shrifts. Sometimes it happens to a country entire and nothing is left
but the wind that used to work itself like a boa over shoulders
and the fires where they were go down to nothing like the ghost
of a ghost. But don’t go feeling sorry. Don’t go setting nets
under every acrobat. Just put a knife in your teeth and grab a rope
and do your best to find a ledge. You wouldn’t believe the luck
we had one summer in Idaho coming around a bend to find a bear.
All she did was look, bored as a drug dealer, at us, then lick herself
and go. It was like a story almost. Something you’d write then x
out, choosing instead for the great tiger in the sky to run us down
like children to a mantis. Then, feeling too sad to fuck, we tell our wives
we are too sad to fuck. Something as plain as bewilderment
in a city where it never snows and all of a sudden out of nowhere it does.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018


Jeff Whitney: “One of my favorite collections of poems is Richard Hugo’s 31 Letters and 13 Dreams. I love epistolary poems, and so, in an attempt to enter into the waters of the letter poem, I began writing back and forth with my long-time poetry collaborator and pal, Philip Schaefer.” (web)

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