“Trigger Warning” by Jackson Burgess

Jackson Burgess


Here is something that is true: At some point in broad nightlight
you’ll shave your pubes before going to a party
and end up ladling in a soup kitchen instead.
There was one time on Western and Expo
when a guy hyped on PCP charged a cop car naked,
like maybe if he smashed the dash hard enough
he’d break the windshield and not his hands … but he was wrong,
and we watched him hit the pavement and sob.
He was Tank Man in South Central, but the cops didn’t care,
and neither did we, really, since we just blinked and walked away.
Another time I stopped outside a sorority house
because a girl was at her window; it was dark, she was applying makeup
violently, which I hadn’t thought possible, and I don’t think she saw me
but I waved just in case. My friend Harrison
says smoking helps you hike at high altitudes because your body
learns to deal with less oxygen, so maybe if I lock myself
in a gassed closet, I’ll figure out how to navigate my sex life
without smothering myself in the sheets. Here’s a weird one:
I punch myself when I’m anxious and nobody’s looking
just to take my mind somewhere else, and I must confess,
it works. I don’t know what the deal is with all these
streetside cathedrals, but they’re creeping me out,
and it’s not like I have anything new to say about God or sex,
but I’m still talking. I’ve learned that if you want to be left alone in public
you just have to curse in creative ways, like “fuckshitfuck!”
and wear clothes with holes, but if you end up in the wrong neighborhood,
lonely strangers will stick to you like glaze—like last Friday
when I found myself handing a smoke to a bald gangbanger
who gave me girl advice for a good twenty minutes
at MacArthur Park. Most of it was just him complaining about his ex
and his dismal sex life, but the dude meant well.
So I wish I knew what to say about gin stagger and needles,
or how to forget an ex’s perfume, but I don’t. My sermon is
Zippo tricks and love notes written in wine,
my friends are my bruises, and I know I taste like nicotine,
but everybody tastes like something.
There was one time on Western and Expo when a man got really scared,
and rather than let anyone notice, he shattered his fists
against a checkered dash. Later I saw a girl plaster her face
when she was pretty enough already,
and then along the lake known for body bags and ducks, I shared a cig
with a guy about as lonely as me. Here’s the truth: At some point everything ends,
and the streetlights turn off, usually because it’s bright enough to see.

from Rattle #47, Spring 2015


Jackson Burgess: “Last summer a mourning dove made her nest in the palm tree right off my balcony. For a good month, I spent every night out there in my underwear, living on coffee and smokes and writing more than I ever had. I saw the babies hatch, I watched them fledge, and then one day they were gone. The poems remained. I write to preserve feelings like that, in hopes that some reader might experience them too.” (website)

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