Josey Rose Duncan

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Part I. (Poem)


You are here and I am home. Wait to let out light, to swallow. Iris as parted lips. Grab, wild, at shoulders. Trace the lengths of our soft edges to our elbows, to our knees, and back. You kiss my toes and it’s not a cliché. I spider my fingers over the top of your head because I know. As far as I can tell your mouth appeared one evening in front of me at a brewery in Fruitvale. Between train tracks and wailing and beams and breath and breath. As far as you can tell, I grew at your feet. When you are waiting and don’t realize. You turn over wet stones in my palms, capture the writhe underneath. I turned myself into a whisper because I thought I was a ghost. 3am, 4pm, 7:30am. Pacific sunset, stroke of midnight. 11:11. You feel the moon. Tell me I am the tide. We tie our wrists with ribbons; cut them free.


This poem is published in Issue 15 of Unbroken Journal.

Far away so close


For Chelsea

We looked for you in winter.
Grew ghosts from our lungs,
searched their eyes for your reflection,
watched them shake.
Released them from our
mouths, silent
into the cold night.

We looked for you in winter, in
hard earth,
held each sugar-glazed blade of grass,
red daisy red rose
touched the sharp end of each burr and
thorn. Searched water-webs stretched across
windshields, for your voice.

Meditated in moonlight pools on slick
asphalt parking lots
endless stretches of lonely
highways snaking
east west north south.
Bathed in

We looked for you in winter.
Opened every
booming back door to every party you ever
Under every key.
Saline and
champagne bubbles,
calling calling.

We looked for you.
Draped San Francisco around our
shoulders, held
across our
elbows. Fairfax falling to our
Fog like feathers.

All winter we
against the
open window at the
foot of your
bed. We saw you,
blinking back
hazel and strong. Your
caresses our quaking eyelids.

We looked for you all winter. Saw
platinum flash in the corners of our eyes
still. Never stayed
in one place
long enough for
to call and feel and catch

We looked for you in winter.
Thought we saw you swimming, splashing, in
awe of what you made.
Dove at the Pacific
realized as we crashed that it was
ice. We looked for you in winter
ran so wild at waves they splintered
scaled craggy pyramids,
soles slipping,
sand dollars loose (neon blinking)
like we hit three cherries.

We looked for you on New Year’s Eve.
Under glitter disco galaxies
astrally-projected from
Berlin and
at the same time.

We shifted feet on the empty dance floor
sipping champagne watching our watches waiting

We looked for you in winter. We looked for you all winter.

Rain washed fingerprints.
Washed away blue glitter you
tossed in your
blue glitter wave
follows you through
like a puppy
because you’re it’s

(Illuminate our faces with blue light.
We feel flushed but we still can’t find you
because you won’t stop spinning.)

When spring came you pinched the
foamy tide
one soft edge in each hand
pulled the great Pacific
toward you like a
thick, grey

In spring you
against earth.
into rain.

We raise our faces,
burrow deep.

We find you in spring find you
pouring from fertile dirt and

Green and nimble
fingers toes. Lines that snake across our palms
we feel you here.

We find you pulling stars and satellites
aching cirrus clouds
across our small vast
sky. Across the ceiling while we sleep.

A note/a key/your voice.
All the songs you’re writing now.

We looked for you in winter.
We found you

When we drink

I embarked on my first bender because I got dumped. Even when you know it’s coming, when you’re nineteen—and maybe, when you’re not—it sucks. After pleading and crying and empty threats, I called some friends, went to the Greyhound station, got hit-on by a dude on his way to a Job Corps forestry program, and tearfully rode the bus to Santa Cruz, where I wallowed in cheap vodka, puked up cheap vodka, and might have at some point eaten a burrito. I stumbled through five misty, hazy days before catching a ride home. Splitting headache and trembling hands aside, I felt much better than I had before I left. I felt cleansed.

I embarked on my next bender for every graduation, promotion, win, completion, or triumph. Birthdays and weddings and new apartments in San Francisco with working fireplaces and picture windows with crane-necked views of the Bay Bridge and the bay (happy housewarming).

When we tied the knot, we toasted with guests and shots of Black Maple Hill bourbon poured into square glasses printed with our initials. I celebrated with white and red wines, and club soda spiked with vodka or bourbon, through the midnight reception, until almost sunrise. We cheered and spilled and sang and shattered glasses and bendered because we were happy.

After a death, after the blood drains from behind your eyes and the world rushes past and is frozen at the same time, there are drinks. Numbing the exposed, while hugging the fresh pain close. Memories and tears cascade steady with each swig, the glass bottle bottom a story’s end. Pour a little out on the asphalt or the dirt.

Wit chases drinks. Now there is talking to strangers who are no longer strange. There is that song, that one song, and that thing that happened one time that you both think about a lot when your minds wander, when you are alone. And there is far, far less fidgeting, and arms uncross and hands gesture loudly. If you’ve panicked, you’ll know that feeling of tight-chest and pressed-against. And you’ll know that sweet booze is the deepest breath.

When new love is found or fake love is gone or decayed love falls away completely and our raw, wet selves are exposed, when we are lost or have discovered exactly what we are looking for—this is when we drink. When we must drink.

And sometimes there is nothing. There is the morning. Or the sunset, or the almost-sunrise. 12:34 or 5:13 or 7:06 and it is not-bright or too-bright or it is a dim room or it is not a room at all. There is an outside-your-fluttering-blinds where it’s not hot, or it is raining and there is thunder. Or it is one weird week of sticky Portland in December snow. Or there is fog, because it is San Francisco and there is always fog. Blinking away last night, or the last 10 hours of crisp-eyed-awake, or your last-seen 10 am, you press your neurons to spark and feel the day or night ahead and still there is nothing, except a bender.

There are always drinks. And after drinks possibilities rise like after-rain steam on sweaty sidewalks, from your warming body in the dark or the sun or the dim room with the blinking bright numbers. And you are alone or you are with someone who is so a part of you that you are basically one, one alone, or you are alone, alone, and don’t feel alone. The sweetest smoke spilling from the coldest fire that grows as you sip, and then you swig, spilling.

—Josey Rose Duncan

Read for Quiet Lighting at Public Works (San Francisco), January 2011 and published in sparkle + blink. Watch a recording of the reading here.