John Estes

Happiness

​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-
to-rupture, a spade-broken slice of ocean, an inexplicable –philia
that hangs on and threatens to disappoint or slow everything it touches,
like the marathon runner who by mile five is walking. I recently saw
a photoshopped image of a woman’s body (I’ll send it to you), her flesh
inter-stitched with tiny metal zipper teeth, stop to stop across the navel,and all I could think about was the expenditure of human consciousness,
about stupid and misguided wastes of time that nature qua nature ennobles,

like the hundred small worms a rainstorm runs aground writhing that later
dry into an artist’s rendering of bent Twiglets (remember those?). I know

it must sound banal, to say that a scene like kids scrounging for snacks
in their tote bags to feed the fatted squirrels finds me attuned to the day

as it passes, to my breath as it passes, to the tall sun and its blinding
22-degree halo as it passes, to the four-year-old-who-will-bury-me as

he runs past on his way to the swings, to the fourteen billion light years
between here and the edge of the beginning that can’t go on forever

(can it?). On these cringe-worthy occasions when I agonize most over my
corrupt and Bond-villainesque tendency to string along tasks that should

have been finished hours ago, when I think about my colleague who turns
back papers the next day, who because he could trained for a marathon

then gave up running, whom everybody trusts and wants at the center
of every decision because he, so Lenten in his composure, says what God

must think, it’s then that I feel most abandoned to being who I am, who I’ve
always been, whatever kind of empty cartridge that proves. But the next

hunger comes on and before long I’m insatiable again for a new conversion,
like Thomas, who like any functional sociopath discovers the wound through

which he has to crawl to get back to where he started. Not sure why it was
you I called from the car (thanks for picking up), from inside the garage,

before I shut off the engine but only after I saw the planet’s fate should I close
the overhead door, even though I felt, with unconcealed clarity and dread,

the imperative to die, maybe the same sensation my childhood neighbor felt
when she cradled her husband’s .38 Special to the backyard, opened her skull

to an early Sunday sunrise from which she’d never asked so much. Ridiculous,
I know, to consider myself a survivor, as if that excuses every pleasure I assure

myself I deserve. Life is hard enough only goes so far (but yeah it goes pretty far),
however the law shall judge. Still, I wager hell will teem with virtuous damned

who failed the only test that mattered; so let the shiv that lord and savior
took for good measure be one more bit of evidence they can bag. Who am I

to believe my cuts will heal or fractured selves meld into blissful union? A man
should carry a knife, my dad liked to say—you just never know; he showed

me how lucky that man is who escapes intact with the mortgage paid. It’s true
one knot seems to precede another, but readiness trumps the sharpness of a blade.

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

John Estes directs the Creative Writing Program at Malone University in Canton, Ohio and is on the visiting faculty of Ashland University’s Low-Residency MFA. He is author of Kingdom Come (C&R Press, 2011), Stop Motion Still Life (Wordfarm, forthcoming) and two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve, which won a National Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America.