John R. Beardsley

Thumb & Pointer


When I get the call—collect, Department
of Corrections—Jay’s
voice on the other side is hushed, nervous

& though I’ve never once visited him
in the state pen,
I can picture him, blaze orange jumpsuit and all.

I’m stoned out of my mind and have been for weeks,
so when he says the words
razor tag I hear laser tag, and I think of that boy

the RCPD shot down because that hunk of black
plastic, curved in all the wrong
ways for a sidearm, seemed the sort of threat

they’d need to open up on. Or maybe it wasn’t the gun,
maybe the boy
was too real. Maybe the bright pinpoints blinded them

in the sidling sunset, the pink turns of autumn light–
razor tag he repeats, because I’ve said
something stupid, I’m fucking cut everywhere, stiches

on stiches. This I can’t see: the hard cons. Blur—
prison ink & a quick safety glint,
and those hours of cigarette ash, the repeated plunge

of ballpoint and paperclip-needle, a teardrop,
inside a teardrop, inside a teardrop
black center to blurry, gangrenous edge; that the record

of so many bodies, innocent or otherwise, can buy
backup only when the violence isn’t play–


None of us balk or stop kicking
when Chris drops the Louisville
Slugger & everyone thinks it’s okay–
that is, it seems justified.

And the sound of that Neo-Nazi’s
hand pulverized between the wide
wood barrel and the greying asphalt
is something like a bag of ice dropped

on a slab of concrete, wet and sharp,
the quick hollow clock—ash cutting
into Chris’ palms. Later I throw up
cheap wine and Mickey’s through

my fingers, but it isn’t the rotgut,
it’s remembering the fourteen-year-old
punk kid from Burlington, all bone
and mohawk, the blood snaking

from his mouth and ears,
and the pushing-thirty Nazi skins
pissing all over his torn up Crass t-shirt.
Justified. I want to know and don’t

what happened to that kid, whether once
the stitches were out he jumped a train
and never came back to the steely waste
of Wisconsin, the cloying, chocolate-factory

stench that washed over his hometown.
I want to know whether that ignorant motherfucker
we beat until he loosed his bowels
ever got to use that hand again.

And if I were seventeen still, I’d want to think
that every time he gripped a beer he’d wince
and feel something, he’d wish to rewind
the bloody-minded aftermath of that three-band bill,

the last any punk band would play there
for a decade, or wish away the swastika
dug in the web between useless thumb & pointer.
One could want that.

John R. Beardsley divides his time between Evansville, Indiana, where he teaches at the University of Southern Indiana, and Tallahassee, Florida, where he is a doctoral candidate in Creative Writing at Florida State University. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal, Gulf Coast, Third Coast, Colorado Review, Cutbank, and elsewhere.