I Have Wasted My Life
after James Wright
There it goes, thin thing, cheshiring between trees whose reaper-robes trail their trains deep underground: your life, hangin outlike an exposure. Easy now. It's your posture I've followed here, summerful hump of it, Sunday spoil— as if anything could happen in this moment to anyone else. Your life is that horrorscene in which the girl is roped between a trailer and a semi: its ruby cab entered, the pistol presented, the engine set to gun, the clutchat the mercy of a muscle at the mercy of a mind at the mercy of a trigger at the mercy of a mind at the mercy of the clutch—"Youuseless waste," jibes the killer to the waste who cannot kill while caught in mercy's Celtic knot, its spun swastika. How swiftlyit all seems to swing sideways: glance: hitcher: hawk: glut-yowled death gods, ungodly, aching for it whileno one thinks this isn'tinevitable, cuts her loose, jams another truck in front—there I go from oblivion, let-offing toward a road, windmilling for rescue. No, I alighieried down this sunken navelto also cape for waste. Yes, me, with my black life, gray Negro face, ever-tried. Treed. Ammercy between amens. I have a thicknessto lean against death's heavy, urgent function like a terrific fiction. I will lie here and swing open: heavens as a throttle opens,hapless as the silent gazebo, revulsion and reverie equally mine to hold in this slim acreage the tidal sun sidles across. The briefly litdog shit, the grace of mean geese unzipping the brown pond, fly-eyed cult of lotus pods neighbor-nosing over the bank,the shiver underneath my ruined shirt, the worm eating of things in the dirt the dead and the living, every slaughter such serenityever cost is the life I have wasted. I'm about it. I can do this all day.
Copyright © 2020 by Justin Phillip Reed
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Nicholas A. C. Nichols
Justin Phillip Reed is an American poet and essayist. He is the author of Indecency (Coffee House Press), winner of the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and a finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His second full-length collection of poetry, The Malevolent Volume, will be released in April 2020. He is the 2019-2021 Fellow in Creative Writing at the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics and the recipient of a 2019 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. His work appears in African American Review, Best American Essays, Denver Quarterly, Guernica, The New Republic, Obsidian, and elsewhere. He earned his BA in Creative Writing at Tusculum University and his MFA in Poetry at Washington University in St. Louis. Justin has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Conversation Literary Festival, and the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis. He was born and raised in South Carolina.
“I’d quote a few of the breathtaking detonations across this incredible collection if there weren’t so many. On every page the intimacies of mind and body, myth and memory are simultaneously sung and said. It’s not quite enough to salute the literary ties and tangles, the range and urgency of subjects, the layered lyric linguistics. The Malevolent Volume is roundly astounding. Reed is making a new and wholly irreducible line through the waters of American poetry.”
“‘Its trumpets, they will ramify.’ Deliberate in its every movement, this collection is a most satisfying force of will. Justin Phillip Reed’s follow-up, The Malevolent Volume, is a masterpiece to which I will ‘be always arriving.’ If our work as poets is to transform what most would call violence and what beasts accept as natural, this is a blueprint for how to do so ethically and masterfully. Here, in word, is a guttural and gutting music. Every poem becomes a new and necessary etymology of ‘malevolent.’ The beast in me bows to the beast in you, Justin. This is a restorative Black eco-poetics; where afropessimism meets afrofuturism.”