Josh Rathkamp’s first collection of poetry, Some Nights No Cars At All, was published by Ausable Press and is now distributed by Copper Canyon. His work has appeared in numerous literary journals and public art projects, including most recently American Poetry Review, Arts and Letters, Poet Lore, and Rattle. He is the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Mesa Community College.
Jesus Christ is Lord not a Swear Word
Although I said Jesus leaving the road construction lane closure
where red flapping flags were the only things working
for miles of cars stuck single file
this Sunday morning, all of us headed west
into a big brown cloud of exhaustion, I didn’t believe
myself damned, just unlucky, just ready for something
new. Jesus, even the rock
spit from the tires of the car in front of me
hit my windshield without gusto, and if you wanted to,
couldn’t you have shattered me whole,
spidered the glass so I’d stop
in the rest area outside town, where a dog circled
the arm of a saguaro before lifting its leg?
The only semi still parked this late
had to be the one with the red spray-painted sign,
Jesus Christ is Lord not a Swear Word. And if
my windshield cracked, I would have waited
for hours for a man in a Speedy Glass van.
I would have read and reread the signs,
the paper, the donation plaque on the restroom wall,
and maybe I’d have turned back,
asked forgiveness, asked to replace
all the places within myself
I’ve managed to destroy. Jesus, I hate
to think bad thoughts about anyone,
but the man in the Bronco behind me
was annoying as hell, just inches away,
and Jesus Christ, I wanted to stop, to flip
the finger, to slam the brakes, to pull off
the road, but I was boxed in, cement
walls and cars surrounding me. I had to keep
driving, keep moving away. I had to. Jesus,
what was there left? Say it.
Do Not Touch
The grass or the chipped lip of a statue.
You must wear gloves, lower light
so million year old rocks locked
inside cabinets stay dense as desire.
Touch can wear them down.
With time, touch might turn
Stonehenge flat. Isn’t that
why they keep us away, small ropes
strung ankle-high along walkways?
So what of your dream to stand between
ancient rocks, be led by sun
to summer or winter or whatever
apex awaited. The placards hanging
next to paintings say the same,
along with my brother and former wife.
I can’t think about boarding the bus,
a train, a plane, not even the pontoon
that pulled my two nieces in a tube
behind it while they waved
their frantic hands as if they had already fallen
into the dark water surrounding them.
I’m only fifty steps away
from the rocks I spent years dreaming about
and I know it’s close
as I’ll get. How is sadness reduced
to this: there are sheep grazing lazily
behind me, tearing away tall tufts
of whatever grass grows here. Even they
don’t dare come close enough to pet.