I am Despite – A poem.

Isolated. Alone. Yet standing among others. They raise their arms around me. So, I raise my arms to join them. Like feathers along the wing of a bird, green leaves cling to the parchment like bark that covers my body. Isolated. But not truly alone. My fingers entwine with those around me, and together we cast the earth below in green sunlight. Light that gives us life, bathes us in warmth, and wraps us in a glowing cocoon of comfort. Knowledge that we are alive. I am alive. Isolated. On the inside, I am alone. Outside, surrounded by others just like me. Arms raised to the sky, holding hands, we blanket the heavens to catch the rain that revitalizes us. Deep in the earth, my roots hold fast, despite the winds that rip away my leaves, and cause my trunk to creak with the strain of standing. But I stand. And I don’t stand alone. I stand with the aid of the earth and the others holding onto my branches. Powerful. I can withstand the elements. Wind blows, but I stand. Water fades, but I have saved enough. Fire burns, but my bark protects me. And through the earth and the sun, I can grow again. Isolated, but not truly any longer. I am my own inside, and outside others love and care for me. And forces greater than I truly understand keep me standing, my roots seated securely in the earth, and now I raise my arms in praise of being alive, basking my leaves in the glory of the sun. And I live. Powerful. Secure. Myself.

JKolasch

Cloud Voyeurism – A poem.

The sheets cling to her curves, like
a toddler clinging to her mother,
afraid of leaving the comfort of stuffed animals
and cartoons for the terror of making
real friends, and learning what happens
when she has two apples and Johnny snatches
one. Makes her cry for mommy. The fabric
pulls taut against her, showing pale peach beneath
its white, where her skin threatens to fade
through and escape. Her breathing is captured,
breasts rising and falling like rolling
waves lapping at my feet. I can imagine
the sand feels pleasant spilling between
my toes, like she spills from the sheets.
Her legs escape, snaking over the bed
and sinking feet into the plush, white carpet.
For a moment, the sun presses through
the window, and she is golden
in the space between the sheets struggling
to contain her.

JKolasch

Cauterize – A poem.

She sits in the shower
and he swirls down the drain.

The unstained oak is rough against
her naked feet. Un-sanded burs catch
and splinter. They were going to finish
the deck. She watches the sun dissolve,
Alka-Seltzer for the sea.

She has the shower hot—
her skin cherries and the steam chokes.
But she can still feel him. Fingers
brushing hair behind her ear. Lips part—
breath escapes. Eyes open,
and it’s just steam.

The sun is gone. She watched it dip,
reflected in the patio door’s glass.
Her hand sticks to the handle, eyes locked
on the darkness.
Eyes wide to keep them dry.
She walks past the coffee table—
ghost rings where he didn’t
use the coasters, a plate with bread
crusts. The newspaper.
She doesn’t look down. Refuses to read
what she knows is there.

Her skin is raw. Burning.
The hot water will run out—
she stays. Stays where she can feel him.
Feel his arms, the press of his lips
before the cold comes on.

JKolasch

The World Appears in a Bathroom – A poem.

All of the houses are empty.
I see lights drifting out of windows
momentarily lost in the darkness
before spilling on vacant streets.
There is no one. Anywhere.
No one is watching heroes fighting,
on the muted TV.
Electricity is being drained away—
Barry Manilow quietly singing
to empty rooms bathed in dimmed lights—
like a ghost fighting against the pull
of crossing over.

An open door pulls
me through its threshold.
It rests, almost carelessly forgotten
to be closed, but there is a sense
of urgency hanging in the air.
Decorative cushions neatly line
the beige couch. A TV Guide sleeps on the floor,
pages pillowed like a tarnished halo,
a nest for the remote and coasters
pushed off the coffee table.
Mixed in with them—a bra, boxers,
and several used condoms.
Did these people know they were
going to vanish? In a rush,
they left the door open to strip
off their clothes and clear the coffee table
so they could melt into each other.
But then why the condoms?

In a narrow hallway pictures
of a golden retriever—
playing fetch with a slobbery, red ball,
burying an old shoe, devoid of an owner.
Second door on the left, and I find it.
The bathroom. It’s clean—
almost like it was never used.
I leave the door open—who’s going to see?
The stream splashing into the bowl
echoes, enunciating the solitude.
A glint from the ring on my hand
brings fog to my eyes. A smile
that seems forever ago spreads,
tingling painfully through my body—
the pins and needles of a sleeping foot.
The bathroom floor is bare,
no plush rugs to comfort feet
stepping out of the shower onto cold tiles.

I’m reaching for the toilet paper
when I hear footsteps in the hall.
Stunned and unsure, I sit there, hand
limply holding the tissue. She’s in the door.
I’ve never met her, but there she is
staring at my crotch.
I wasn’t expecting anyone.
The world was gone. Her eyes
travelled up my body, until they
met my own. There weren’t any sparks.
Just a dull ache.
Her voice was quiet, and a little hoarse.
When she spoke, it was
a gear rusted too long.

“Can I use the toilet?”

My fingers fumble over the zipper
and the swirl and gurgle
of the toilet bowl cuts through the silence.
My mouth opens, but my voice left—
left with everything else.
I step outside as she closes the door,
water faintly splashing.

JKolasch

The Crone – A poem.

When I drink
my Kahlua Mudslide
through a straw—
it’s iced—
I saw her sit down.
She didn’t have a coffee,
an espresso, or a mochatini.
She had her eyes.
So young, surrounded by
a mask carved from leather,
baked in sun and dusk.
I keep my eyes
on the laptop screen,
trying to write a poem,
or a word, or a line,
or at this point, even
just a letter.
But she’s staring at me—
through me, into me—
or at the mirror beside
me. What does she see
when she sees herself?
An old woman, alone
in a coffee shop not
drinking coffee?
A young girl, in love—
unable to tell if the heartbeat
is hers or his?
Counting wrinkles
and the wisdom carved
into her skin?
I look to her seat,
but she’s gone. A faint face
stretched across
the leather back seems
to smirk.

JKolasch

Sisters of the Mask – A poem.

Paint clings better to paper mache.

A strange bird’s feathers
float between her mask’s furrowed eyes.
Her eyes, the only humanity visible,
and they are dark and creased. Overflowing.
The gold paint glimmers how she cannot.
The tired smile is carved into the mask,
not her.

Her skin below the mask hesitates,
drifts out of the fabric of her costume.
Bright and faded, it stretches,
and folds over her like an envelope
without enough postage.

When she changes her face,
she turns away and her dark hair curtains,
and creeps down her back.

The mask has become her;
the paper hides her hollow.

JKolasch

Sprites – A poem.

Distant bombs shift the dust
smothering everything.
Fingerprints and footprints cover
bookshelves, open photo albums
where tiny handprints cover a baby boy’s
face, smearing his smile through
the dust, eyes pale blue and slightly yellow.
Covering the woman on the beach, polka
dot bikini as grey as her smile.
Prints on the books,
through the pages of Moby Dick,
Great Expectations, and The Great
Gatsby
. Footprints have patrolled
back and forth and back and forth
across the mantle. It’s hard to tell
what kind of wood, but it shines maroon
where the dust has been paced away.

Like our trail through snow, tramped down
by booted feet, step in time, clatter
of buckles and bullets and cans
of food and guns slung. Or ash
from our fire keeping coats and boots
dry, heating the tin of baked beans
and pork to fill stomachs
lined with ash from bombed
bodies and buildings in London.

JKolasch

Squirrel Ballet – A poem.

Tonight, the moon is a plastic bag
caught in the grasping willow
where the squirrels sit, eating their winter-stored
Planter’s peanuts and almonds. Casting
shells into the oil-rainbow puddle and divining
that the broken colors mean
Frank will get laid tonight, but only
if he can manage to tame his bushy tail
because she likes her men neat and clean.
Which is strange for a squirrel.
But Frank tries to conquer the fur
with both paws and his teeth because he
is incredibly horny after a winter of watching
pay-per-view porn through a stranger’s window.

Frank repels down the tree,
trying to hide the nervous chattering
amidst cheers from his friends. This time,
he’ll get Suzanne in the oak across
the way. Straightening his bowtie,
he darts into the road to win his girl.

Car. And the squirrels scurry, momentarily
losing their minds and running back and forth
and back and forth across the road before
flying up the willow and cussing so loud
they sound like they are shivering
the way their teeth chatter. There is a soft squelch
but the cars keep driving, offering a silent apology
through the whisk, whisk of Frank’s tail brushing the road
where it clings, dangerously and gracefully,
to the all-weather tread of the tire.

A small, red stained bowtie flutters
against the oak’s trunk, where Suzanne
sits in silence.

JKolasch

Sloth – A poem.

I watch YouTube—
instead of watching
painted skies, trying to mimic
brushstroke for stroke
the finger whorls of gods
smearing burning clouds across
and down into lakes.

Instead—
people dress like cows,
screaming at fainting goats.

I watch YouTube—
instead of watching
my dog chase butterflies
in his sleep. Feet flicking,
kicking as he smiles
through black and white fields
where tiny flower-drinking
insects are the only color
he can see.

Instead—
girls paint themselves
with words, and flash flesh
better, faster, stronger.

I watch YouTube—
instead of watching
the canary talking to me.
Gasping and choking,
his yellow feathers fading
as he dies, a byproduct
of sensitivity.

Instead—
words are wrenched
and retooled, hammered into
lips to be sung again.

I watch YouTube—
instead of watching
the last breath escape my lungs,
ectoplasm like smoke, photographed
in darkness, and probably fake.
But I’ll never know.

Instead—
twin rainbows swim overhead,
quivering voice filming—
oh my god, oh my god.

JKolasch