Written a Few Miles Above a Hole in the Earth We Like to Pretend Isn’t There

I look away too. Or accidentally think about a moon, 

since when nothing is happening, a moon is happening. 

I feel the sea forgetting me again, 

my hands first, then the color of my eyes, 

though they’re the color of the sea. 

I draw pictures of jungles with no trees in them 

so at least the paper feels more ashamed of itself than I do. 

A name for that kind of hypocrisy happens, I’m sure, 

in the books I tell people I’ve read. 

I don’t have time to read them. 

I sometimes can’t remember names. Of events, of people, places. 

I just call them Justin, from the Latin Justus, meaning righteous. 

 

My friend I’d walk to school with, for example, 

who lived next door until sixth grade, 

whose parents I never saw speak to each other. 

We stuffed pillows under our shirts 

and “Sumo-wrestled” in his yard while his little sister 

made a real family with her Barbies on the porch. 

I heard he jumped into a river one January night, his 23rd birthday, 

and was found the next morning, 

a quiet smile frozen to his face.

 

In middle school, my parents separated. 

Dad moved to Tennessee and met a diner waitress 

who smoked Salem Lights at breakfast with her coffee 

while she stared silently at me eating my Corn Flakes. 

Her eyes, the color of a dead tree, said how in-the-way she found me 

until she looked away. 

I looked away too. 

 

Mom and I vacationed near the sea that summer. Just us. 

We walked together every night in the surf 

and felt it forgetting us more every time a wave broke near our ankles. 

But we laughed like the sea. 

It felt like we hadn’t laughed before. 

I grew up with that laughter aching to crash again 

sky-shaped from the edge of some void inside me that’s never had a name. 

My wife feels that void sometimes when I look away suddenly. 

She fears the Earth grows more sick by the minute, 

forgetting each of us, our names, the lives we’ve had in it. 

She can’t sleep. I rub her back. I lie. Tell her I’m not afraid. 

I tell her, Don’t worry, Justin, 

we will be fine as long as we take care of us. Just us. 

And usually she falls asleep, lies warm against me like a sea, 

so quiet I can close my eyes 

and stare back into the dark that never fails to remember me. 

Marcus Whalbring's first book was published in 2013. His poems have appeared in Spry, The Cortland Review, Now Culture, Blood Lotus, and others. He graduated from Miami University with an MFA in creative writing.

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