Self Portrait as Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey

James Hoch

Lately I have not been feeling myself.I walk around like a figure missingits ground. I see a braid of smokea hand passes through and envy hands,how smoke stays on skin, the fainthairs of a cheek a hand brushes against.Used to be enough to be the blown engineof a VW outside of Durango, whiskeywe killed watching our father die, a badpainting I loved because our motherloved bad paintings, without irony.Lead sinkers in the gray bay of self—There! I’d say, strapped to the mastof a tall ship in a Turner painting,or a grip dangling from the center poleof a circus tent above a troupe of dachshundstrying to find the tiny pedals of tricycles.I collected myself like I was vying to bethe last pawn shop in New Jersey.Now I am not even a whir of gnatson a dirt road, a threadbare cloudon a ridge line, the steam riding offan old man stepping out of a sauna.Days nothing seems to tie me to me.The more I live, the more the rucksacklightens, the more I can’t find myselfin the mirror of the world, and roamstorefronts as if I have misplaced myself.When I was a kid, I used to keepa Pringles can filled with volcano rockssomeone once sold as Apache Tears,one weird-ass way of marketing pain.Gone now, as the name of the boyI bailed out for stealing CDs from Walmartfor the girl he crushed on. Which is notreally a crime I explained to the cops.The girl loved Stevie Nicks so muchI found her stoned under blackberry bramble,listening to Landslide on a Walkman.Perhaps it matters to say they were Apache orPueblo, Inde or Kewa, that they wereminor thieves flung far from home.Perhaps all they wanted was the groundinside each other. But even as I sayLandslide, Walkman, I feel the screeof words, the pawn shop emptying out.The things that made me are ether now,as clear as those who went and diedand took what mattered—bodies, a joke,a late meal that wove itself into morning—as if they had packed for the afterlife.And empty and whole and empty,the air inside me tastes like leaving,and leaving tastes like rain that never comes.Which I love like breath on a window,like someone else drawing a heart, a face,a pleasure in the taking. No wonder,I am marveling over the demo crewslaying each other: Fuck wad, lug nut,waste of skin— Cuts, we used to call them,nicking wing, heel, gutting into laughter.Then, tender tender, as one with angelsor dogs, where the wound is transom,the words hold them to the ground,and I am whatever hovers when they go.

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James Hoch’s books are Miscreants and A Parade of Hands. Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey is due in 2022 from LSU press. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Republic, Washington Post, Slate, Chronicle Review of Higher Education, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Kenyon Review, Tin House, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other magazines, and has been selected for inclusion in Best American Poetry 2019. He has received fellowships from the NEA, Bread Loaf and Sewanee writers conferences, St. Albans School for Boys, The Frost Place and Summer Literary Seminars. Currently, he is Professor of Creative Writing at Ramapo College of NJ and Guest Faculty at Sarah Lawrence.

Vol. 41, No. 2

Middlebury, Vermont

Middlebury College

Carolyn Kuebler

Managing Editor
Leslie Sainz

Poetry Editor
Jennifer Chang

By publishing new fiction, poetry, and nonfiction that is both challenging and inviting, New England Review encourages artistic exchange and thought-provoking innovation, providing publishing opportunities for writers at all stages in their careers. The selection of writings in each issue presents a broad spectrum of viewpoints and genres, including traditional and experimental fiction, long and short poems, translations, criticism, letters from abroad, reviews in arts and literature, and rediscoveries. New England Review exists in a place apart from mass culture, where speed and information overload are the norm. At NER, serious writing is given serious attention, from the painstaking selection process through careful editing and publication, where finally the writer’s words meet up with a curious and dedicated readership.

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