“Elegy” by Russel Swensen



Year of the constant lament, year of the
Single bloodstained barrette on
Cement. Year of hating everything,
But mostly New Orleans, living
In New Orleans, everything
That was New Orleans. Year of regret, of one last
Cigarette, of Glenn saying why did you bring
Me to a poetry reading, we could have gone to a
Bar and made ourselves equally upset. Year of Emily
With the dreads saying have you ever closed your eyes
So hard you forgave everyone, for everything, that they
Ever did. But I hadn’t and didn’t and never would;
Why would I. I walked dogs for a living,
And they were my friends. I saw no
Disagreement in their eyes, only a bruised softness,
Like popcorn, or the promise of orchids. A dress
On the line. Year of a rose upon the battlements.
Year of fuck you do me. Year of my psychiatrist prescribing
80 mg a day of amphetamine salts. I biked from dog
To dog, I turned hard and gold, heather in a kiln,
And my head, in my head, barely
Even a sound, a wounded hum, an empty fluttering,
Like fluorescent lights in an empty room,
Or believing in ghosts, or love. What did any of it mean?
Nothing. Less than nothing. A whisper
Instead of hands. The night in the night
As if a hole in it, letting a darkness behind the darkness
Emerge, and consume, everything, replacing, everything,
In the sky, with a sky that looked exactly the same,
But was darker, in every way that mattered, darker.
Year I drove drunk during Mardi Gras or not so
Drunk, or not drunk at all— whatever you prefer— down St. Charles,
At 4 am, where the cleaning crews like delicate figurines
Were wrapped up in gauze and wobbling, almost floating,
Floating away from it all, and the trash surged like a white sea,
Four feet deep in places, moving in the wind, spectral, frothing
Trash, and beads, that for some reason,
People valued.


2017-10-05 15.41.54-1

Russel Swensen earned his MFA in fiction from the California Institute of the Arts and his doctorate in poetry from the University of Houston. He is the author of Santa Ana (2012) and The Magic Kingdom (2016). His fiction and poetry have appeared in Black Clock, Quarterly West, Pank, Third Coast, Devil’s Lake, The Collagist, The Destroyer, and elsewhere. He lives in New Orleans.

Featured image by David Menidrey

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