Stephen Whisler

Annelyse Gelman

I went to the woman doctor
to take my pain away.

In a slim black peacoat
my performance was adequate.

I tried to look like a person
who didn’t deserve to suffer.

I flirted with the receptionist
by giving her my full attention.

In the waiting room a painting
of a painting of a rabbit in snow.

A painting of snow. Pristinely
I broke. I felt wild and deliberate.

I felt like I could see everything.
I could see everything.

I told her like I told the others:
you’re the only one I can trust.

I’m flattered, she said.
You should be, I said.

Because she had no grief to speak of
I spoke of mine.

You are so pure, she said.
I know, I said.

From the walls
husbands seeped like oil.

With half a fist inside me
I could see everything.

I want you so bad, she said.
Badly, I said. Now

run your tongue around the rim
of this sterile plastic cup.

Let me see what you look like
without your body on.

After bad press, a man was hired
to admire the scenery, to scatter children

like ants to sugar, ants under magnifying
glass, ants on a windowsill in afternoon

light, dull-fogged, dust like boulders
scaled up, his bad eyesight smoothing

the blood to bloom, super-bloom, desert
floor throated with carnations, red sugar

exploding to a hundred pieces, though please,
it’s so much more than that, press aside,

children pressed like flowers, like ants pressed
under boots, so small you can’t see them

if you don’t look, but he could see everything
flayed, cleaving the clouds, a mouth opened

for bombs to fall out of, you open the body
and the blood falls out, you open the blood

and the air comes in, the light comes in,
the ants come in and the light goes out.

once a month her spent fuel

stains her thighs black (so crude

it’s almost primitive watching the races

from under the track the dirt

pressed to diamonds so crude

it’s almost blood) once a month

she tunnels two fingers into herself

to check her pulse counts down

from ten that’s when she comes

lifting her boot over your yellowing face

to teach the rest of us a lesson

ok i confess to the
graffiti I’M
SORRY MOM vermillion
pastel and finger
prints on the
4 hydrogen bombs
evidence is
everywhere i am but
i am not sorry i
had a nose bleed into
my mouth like
warm milk then had
a tummy ache did
you hear the one about
the elephant that fell
in love with the
armored tank me
neither is
that the whole
joke or
is there more to
it i gave the
cashier my
hand but he would not
take it
back that’s
when i took out my
gun will i hang
my head no
hang me
on your hideous
refrigerator i
hang onto the floor with
my hands the
ceiling turns inside

“the horror of the hanging tree
isn’t the hanging” said the white
boy from his comfortable

distance “it’s the walking
through the city park fifty sixty
years later teenagers with grilled

cheese sandwiches reading crime
and punishment leaning against
the plain brown trunk summer

break the heart pierced through
by the arrow carved by the pocket
knife the tire swing the hide

and seek the history sloughed
off banal as fingernail dirt dug
out from the roots plucked off

the branches sucked dry jesus
the red delicious apples not
even poisoned not even that

and the placemat in the diner
with the picture of the body my
god in sepia in silhouette

to occupy the customers while
they wait for pancakes and over
easy eggs to place on top

of the placemat that’s what
a placemat is for after all”
the wind was moving softly

over idyllic bricks they paused
to admire some moss “but actually
the horror is the hanging” she said

do i need to tell you she was also
white or do i need to tell you more
about the beautiful scenery

he said “i guess you’re right
the horror is the hanging” and
they were satisfied walking along

having arrived at the source
of the horror 

swollen ovary
of moon
on skylight
the night
to itself
I walk
the dark
like cobwebs
feeling my
made of
on the leather
the grass
the dirt
the dead
behind glass
the ant farm
of us
from above
my self
the dark
the atmosphere
on display
feebly glowing
with my gaze
I weaponize
the moon
so much
to someone
else’s country
else’s sky

Does it make a sound.
Or simply come.
Same blue as the sky but.

Just something off.
Once or twice in my lifetime.

I looked up.
The sky should not.
Think for itself.

Once or twice in my lifetime.
I thought I had earned it.
To empathize with a stone.

Clouds shaped like bullets but.
Honey where did you learn that word.
Or should we begin.

With the premise that all men are good.
Does the tree dream.
Of the telephone pole.

I cradle the stone in my hand.
Milk seeping out.
Same white as the clouds but.

Stephen Whisler

Stephen Whisler was born into a military family in the middle of the age of anxiety. His family moved often, from the East Coast where he was born, to California and back, to Taiwan and then California again. He attended UC Davis as an undergraduate and earned his MFA from Claremont Graduate University. He has shown his work at Artist’s Space, The New Museum and various other galleries and museums in New York, California, Chicago and Wisconsin. After living for 27 years in New York, he has relocated to Napa, California, where he continues to make metaphorical objects and drawings that investigate surveillance and power. His work can be seen at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary in Oakland, California.

Annelyse Gelman

Annelyse Gelman’s work has appeared in Indiana Review, The Awl, the PEN Poetry Series, and elsewhere, and she is the author of the poetry collection Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone (2014), a finalist for the Believer Poetry Award. Follow her poetry, music, and film projects at tinyletter.com/annelyse.