Justin Phillip Reed


the upstairs neighbor makes you think you’ve gone soft in the brain. you yell “goddammit” in the dark; an audience of one responds: a sigh, upheaved from your own intestinal waiting room. at four a.m. his cowboy boots resume assaulting floorboards screeching inches above your ceiling tiles, which have the consistency and the weak promise of white cake. some nights he descends to the basement to do his girlfriend’s laundry. you feel invaded while the metal dryer shudders on the concrete slab. the angry black words on the brain’s page flash first oppressive then encaged and would if i had a gun blow a hole through a surface between us to remind him i’m alive down here and hate to be alone with myself so close to others. his fucking seems inconsiderate when it runs over the sleep-aid playlist you made in desperation because — and this is key — the neighbor is also a friend. and kind. two years the two of you have kept a decent social contract, sort of a good-and-service trade involving tylenol, wireless internet, and transportation when your car again has given you its ass to kiss. and yet who you are isn’t smothered enough by the civil superego not to hate his grunts of understatement, her button-track ohgods, and the vacuous erection now making controversy of your spinal wire tangle.


a barrier in denim and leather, you warm your boots up near the flames. a babble of inside jokes and costly pleasantries crests and wanes. the (white) (english) friend would like this seat next to you, which you were / are saving. wait, see: aren’t there other places for him to sit around the fire pit? in the 43-degree night, there is one: stool, steel, elevated, awkward. why can’t he— but why couldn’t you have— he is sitting. it is a cold communal adhesive between you.

you haven’t been doing well: deluding yourself in trying to erect a system equally as formidable as that which always outlies your terrifying / terrified body. your presumption of antagonism — the wind-raw season of it — hardens into a condition. you (are) assume(d). you (are) position(ed).

you cannot raise such ambiguous walls as those inside the bar. harriet tubman frowns down from one, permanently framed in her negation. her mouth is a U on its head. that U symbolizes intersections of events in probability and statistics. jackie wilson is lonely teardropping up from a speaker, and one of you is doubling whiskeys, and another one of you just walked in the door. you cannot turn and say “sorry, but no, the brown man who sits here on the bench is like my brother.” you can only be tired of moving against. you know, you can be so tire(d )some(times).

Justin Phillip Reed is a South Carolina native and author of the forthcoming chapbook, A History of Flamboyance (YesYes Books, 2016). His poems are forthcoming in Jai Alai Magazine, Kenyon Review, Obsidian, Union Station, and Vinyl Poetry. He is a Junior Writer-in-Residence at Washington University in St. Louis.

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