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“Blackouts” and Other Poems


Paul Stinson

Art by Barbara Weissberger



Today, we mean power, obviously, or the lack of it, because the system wasn’t built for modern demands. What was?

Lukewarm oats between the old man and me. During the war, he says, we had to cut the lights, pull the curtains, and wait. No candles. Just us. I think it sounds lovely. I think he’s right.

He gets dizzy sometimes. He falls. But of course he does! It was the last century when we put it all together. And look at us now. We’ve grown. Transformed. Beaten the day out of night.


At the Funeral

No one would tell me how his nose got smashed
or what really happened outside the bar that night.
He’d been a looker—I’ll give him that much—but
he looked like a hooker in that makeup and light.
Of course his sister stood in the pulpit and said,
“To know him was to love him.” Bitch, please.
We never married, but I knew him better than most—
knew that love, to him, meant staying on my knees
or getting left behind. “Go ahead, rot here,” he said,
“or come with me and rot somewhere else.”
I stayed. He left. He could have found me if he wanted,
but he didn’t. He wanted to be by himself.
I’ll skip the cemetery—I don’t need all that—
and sit a bit longer with the incense and lilies.
Shut your eyes long enough and you could even
forget it was a funeral. Is that lame? Is that silly?
It would smell the same after a wedding, too,
wouldn’t it? Or am I just being a pathetic loser?
God, how I wish I’d been the one to bust his nose because
to do that, you’d have to be arm’s length, or closer.


Field Trip

We ask the kids how the large fiberglass lima bean makes them feel, and why the sculptor chose to put the heart in a turquoise cube, and what would the turquoise cube say if it could talk.

What do you think it’s thinking?

And what’s another word for bored? And how can we respect the idea even if we don’t care for the piece? And remember: It’s “From where,” as in “From where does the artist come?” Because we don’t end sentences with a preposition.

J. doesn’t have a favorite piece. He prefers looking at the swans on the pond. Because the rainbow spigot doesn’t even work, and the railroad tie totems don’t make any sense, and he’s bored, just like at his old school, and just like at this one, where we don’t even have fights, and it takes him three buses to get to.


The Killing of an American Fruit Fly

What bears mentioning about it, I think, is how carefully I examine
the sticker on a banana, or an apple, or a tangerine.
The small oval with the name of the thing
and its country of origin.
A tiny kiwi ID.

It’s not political—it’s existential. What to do with the awful
knowledge that someone is busy growing D’Anjou pears
in Argentina right now, or worse, that I can
get my bloody hands on one
any time I want?



Oh, say, ten years ago it was that I first noticed the battlefields of the future and thought, Christ, this is not my father’s war!

No green sludge buried under mountains in casino states, or honeycomb fences laid through borderlands, or mega-hurricanes with little girls’ names to keep us on our toes. There had never been an invasion on my soil, you see, so when it happened I was not prepared. To me, every tower simply fell.

Has it always been this way? I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been part of the one percent, or one of the twelve, or even a friend of Caesar. (No—I had to work!)

If I’ve learned anything since then, it’s that empires love to die. Look, they’re not doing this for their health. And then we can jingle them in our pockets like coins, like a pile of palm-smoothed metal, with a laughing flood of memory, and not a single thought of wealth.