John Estes

It Must Be Abstract

Everything quintessential like a tiny screwdriver
Around the house or a coatrack or a contrail
That appears just as you’re looking up
Like an autumn mist or a snow melt
Grist we never asked for or the cocktail fork she lost
(All we ever found were olive pits)
That night the actor came and probably stole a dish
But left behind his nearly new D&G jacket
A black one with a broken zipper and ticket stub
Collection in one pocket which I eventually lent out
Never to see again just like the friend
Lent out as I did those several parts of myself
Those eight years they kept calling marriage
And maybe that’s just what there is
This is what they meant when they likened difficult
Breathing to the contours of surviving
At altitude which is to say achieving
That which presents itself as yours to achieve
But what if what you find at the end
Of exertion is not transfiguring but merely tiring
What if the slow descent they call the rest
Keeps filling you with sturdy dread
You search everywhere for the necessary tool
And no number of dinner parties and house concerts
Seem sufficient to resuscitate the wonder
And all you can think of is that purple dotted
Shirt you used to wear and all the times
You wished you could jet off to where it rains
You swore you’d never stop no matter what because
You believed there existed right things
Because the myth of Sigrid fed your hope
That a formula exists where eternity won’t obviate
Wisdom because it’s simple at its simplest
Everybody knows to start from the left and work in


A man and a woman talk on the phone.
These two in bed. Those like to text late at night.
No one stayed up for the meteors;
clouds obscured the eclipse.
She turns to him, actually or virtually,
and asks him why
he doesn’t smoke anymore, what happened?
He wonders in turn where love
disappears to when it’s gone as suddenly as
it so often arrives, but fails
to formulate this into a question.
She leaves him for another—​
sometimes man, sometimes woman—​
sometimes in his daydreams, sometimes in hers.
Sometimes they both leave,
other times it’s the groaning of plates
in the earth’s sockets until they see one another.
Forever is defined as however long
it takes before you start
attaching prefixes. The parallel to birds
ends about there.
A jackdaw, for example, takes up
with other kinds of crows just because it likes to.
Sometimes they hunt, other times they scavenge.
No such beast exists as
the common red bird or solitary nester.

I ask myself, as she falls asleep in another room,
as the sun somewhere transits—​
how many false endings
one man is allowed per life, how inevitable
it was for the story to emerge
that a man spent three days in the belly of a great fish,
and how impossible it would be
no matter how bright the it of it burns
for anything ever to go well for that man again.

Beside This Stack Of Ungraded Papers

It feels too much always ready-to-hand, this turbid sensation of ready-