Art by William Downs
Running Away at Eight
Last night I swam empty apartments,
avoiding pursuit, the curtains caught
in waves. I swear today I will follow
the river up to its headwaters, sleep
in the shell of a burned tree, break into
– no out of – no both – this house.
The ice cream social, all jump rope
and insults, renders me unnecessary,
except to swallow too much of both.
Six Million Dollar Man lunchbox full
of squirreled Snickers, I cross the gate,
walk circles around the city’s soft belly,
three-point-five miles. Will the doorstop
brick I can hardly hold pierce the screen,
and get me into my escape? So far,
in my encounters with glass it’s me
who fragments. Will the family
over the fence notice the crash?
The beagle spins and wags on the porch
as at any return, no matter how fleeting.
A bee flies so slow it sounds drugged
by the musk the mower leaves.
After the police have found me,
our faces become salt. Secrets
are protection. We visit each other’s
without saying them. The boy in the tree
circles us all night. Our beds
perform miracles of speech.
Rough Outline of Family
On the white plate on the veneer table
there’s too much sex. The paneling presses.
Our outlines flicker. We pick at husks,
Tell gross-out jokes about chops,
Waste shame on frozen string beans.
We seemed to be having fun and we were.
This keening is methodical. It doesn’t mean
We aren’t still here for you in our repetitions
(Rather than rituals) of morning return.
Your mouth telegraphed pleasure in tunes.
We didn’t ask how we escaped, what we broke,
Crystalized or left for good along the way.
And what did you do today? (Said no one ever).
A man tried touching me. I’m going to the river,
The capillary, for a walk of pity, for woods and bums,
Solace in barely-moving worn figures
Who tend small chemical fires at dusk and live
‘By their own rules.’ I am alight,
Lying already, arms thin as fingers,
Boned with pine. Bled with silt. Pass the bread.
Get a job. Hope for more, then have more,
Then what? Daven over the turntable, turn up
Mingus and Lateef. My son will be safer.
That’s the magic. Even though no one can protect us
I can abate my heart toward you and toward him,
Hear its smudged thump through the blue all day
Until ‘Trane’s darkening song plays our sleep and
Someone asks for more and passes for normal.
Someone flickers and glows around a face
Disappearing and someone (all of us are)
softening together tonight.
I like old maple floors as much as the next guy,
So please come live with me
In this under-heated and willing place.
We can resist, rise like a country
Under siege from old maps and remains.
That fixture on the wall is made of your likeness.
This one’s of me. The boy we did
Together. If you can picture
These kinds of stillness you can stop
Breathing. Don’t try it alone or we won’t know
How long it lasts. He’ll ask to go,
And soon we’ll all join the descending
“Mood Indigo,” or “Rehab,” the chase
Along the bank, the folding your body
(Or mine) does onto itself, him jiggling
In his chair, unwieldy and curious, keen
To leave, finding his weight and worry
After he’s licked the spoon dry,
Then out there again and gone.
Aaron Landsman makes performances, poems, essays ,and stories; recent and upcoming publications include The Wax Paper, Hobart, Painted Bride Quarterly, Fat Coyote Review, and River Teeth. His book The City We Make Together, co-authored with Mallory Catlett, comes out with The University of Iowa Press in 2022. He lives in New York City.
William Downs (born Greenville, SC) has had recent solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia in Atlanta, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and Derek Eller Gallery, NY. His work was featured in the 2021 Atlanta Biennial at Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, the Albany Museum in Albany, GA and The African American Museum of Art in Philadelphia. He is a recipient of the MOCA GA Working Artist Project Grant (2019) and Artadia Award (2018).