I Have Wasted My Life

Justin Phillip Reed

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.

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Photo:
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 ReviewBest American Essays, Denver Quarterly, GuernicaThe 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.” 
—Terrance Hayes

“‘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.”
 —Marwa Helal

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