Poetry: Selections from John Sweet


last letter from the dead poet, but
none of us understands what
this means at the time
                   of course
last day of summer and
all you know for certain is
that you’ve wasted your life
found christ then
lost the fucker but there are
                    cheaper drugs
maybe sleep with the daughters of
men who drank with
dead presidents
and was it a good time?
do you seriously have
nothing better to write about?
there are always reasons to breathe and
there are always reasons to kill and
there are all of us lost beneath
the poisoned sun
the vast emptiness between
pinochet and neruda and we are
always being dragged into the future
without weapons but with other
people’s reasons to hate
we are always stoned
when the bad news arrives
mandy gone in a car crash
down in virginia but are you
going to waste your life crying?
are you going to turn
self-pity into an artform?
this is the deal
you can either be your father
or your father’s son
can either be the victim or the ghost
stay hidden in plain sight long enough
and you will live to see
everything you’ve ever loved

in the clear blue light of the world that exists

you are not the
dead man i dreamt of but
       you are the same and
                 he is the father
this is the house but
we are not the owners
indifferent paintings on
cracked and peeling walls
indifferent poet at a
chipped and scarred desk, says
he doesn’t expect you to
understand his pain
asks for a drink
              a cigarette
              a light
but his wife’s closet is empty
we are all in love with
the wrong truths
some clueless asshole tells you
you’re a god and you choose to
          believe him and now the
         whole weekend is fucked
the whole month is ruined
a cheap motel room at
the city’s edge
free hbo and a view of the
interstate and it’s here that i
finally realize what a serious
business hating yourself really is
poet’s wife asks for a drink
                          for a cigarette
                           or a light but
i need to get back home
the children no longer trust me
when i tell them I love them
the pictures they draw hang crooked
on smudged and faded walls,
the ghosts refuse to fade even in
                the brutal light of day
all i’m asking from you is
some small amount of belief and
all i’m saying is that you’re
not the dead man
this is his house,
but the mother is crying
says she lost her son in the war
says her daughter ran away
                  smell of blood and the
taste of gasoline and the windows
have all been boarded over
afternoon is wasted trying to
find a door that still opens
rest of the day
is burned to the ground

…and the heart a broken bell

says she’s tired of being dead and
what the hell am i supposed to do?
can’t have power without money
can’t have god without the devil
late august sunlight after
four days of rain and i kiss her
feet when she asks
i kiss her breasts
lick the tears from her cheeks and
wait for the moment to pass and
what we are is finished
but not quite yet
what the space between us sounds
like is an unspoken apology
no one wants to talk about the
future when it never amounts to
anything more than children
sleeping in a house on fire

[just a clever boy on the border]

or a silence so large it leaves
no room for lies,
or a war
one corpse and then another and
then another until this bottomless ocean is filled
until this song i’ve written for
the hopeless and the doomed shoots
to the top of the charts
a good beat and a catchy chorus and
and all the kids want to do is fuck
all they want to do is burn
get high behind locked doors, get
down on all fours and crawl over broken glass,
and it feels so good when the blade
slides in just below the ribs
feels like neon lights and polished chrome and
who fingertips are you sucking on
on the day your sister runs away?
whose car do you crash when
your parents are out of town?
nothing but good fun with the house on fire
man with a gun outside the burger king
waiting for just the right family
to open fire on
all sides equal and
all hatred learned and do you
remember the day you were born?
have you foreseen the
moment of your death?
a lot of empty hours in between,
even with the video games,
                the crystal meth,
               the internet porn
a season of failure, maybe,
or maybe an age
the only person you’ve ever truly loved
lost in a dying town in a
distant state
the need to breathe, even after the
air has all turned to poison,
and you open your eyes at the exact
moment the trigger is pulled
you watch the news and
wait for a reason
wait for forgiveness
and it’s only a matter of time before
all hope darkens, you understand,
before it twists into some bitter new shape,
and so it’s best just to take what you can
it’s the plague suddenly returned
in your lifetime,
10,000 dead and counting,
and if you don’t know any of them,
                      does it really matter?
the easy answer is no, but then
you’re the root of all evil
you’re the reason christ was crucified,
but the fucker came back didn’t he?
made some speeches and kissed some babies
won the election, went to disneyland,
took a bullet in the back of the head on
some endless sunfilled afternoon, and i’ve
still got his first album on vinyl
i’ve still got that scar from where
the knife slipped when i was nine
remember where i was when
cobain pulled the trigger, but not who
had no thoughts of outliving my father
until the moment arrived, and
then i had no one left to hate but myself
turned everyone i loved into
                            the enemy
and then got down to fighting the war

if fear would change your mind

so, fame or suicide or
maybe somewhere in between
life and not life and then
fourteen straight days of rain
st anthony with his thumb out
at the freeway’s edge
because anywhere is better than here
because any amount of pain
is better than feeling nothing at all
and it sounds like a lie
even before
the words have begun to fade

always approaching lost

a nation of assholes w/ guns
hoping for someone to shoot
a suicide’s last hit song
on the radio
end of winter, probably, and the
earth scraped raw,
and where do we go now?
the past has been wasted,
the future will get its turn
do you need this in writing?
1968, 1998, 2018,
doesn’t really matter
dead man on the balcony,
empty faces in the crowd, and
people will always tell you that
hope is a choice but just
saying it doesn’t make it true
just being alive doesn’t
make what you have a life
i’m thinking of myself here,
but i know i’m not alone

John Sweet sends greetings from the rural wastelands of upstate NY. He is a firm believer in writing as catharsis, and in the continuous search for an unattainable and constantly evolving absolute truth. His latest poetry collections include A FLAG ON FIRE IS A SONG OF HOPE (2019 Scars Publications) and A DEAD MAN, EITHER WAY (2020 Kung Fu Treachery Press).