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Ace Boggess

"What Gets You Excited About Life?"

"How Do You Know You're Welcome?"

"How Long Have You Been Feeling Tired?"

"Why Doesn't Anyone Light Candles for Breakfast?"


Remain Calm

"What Gets You Excited About Life?"

                                         —rehab workbook

Hear a song for the first time.
It hints at the familiar—
Sgt. Pepper’s, Syd Barrett, Who—
also dabbles in modern strange,
uncertain. Plays on my radio,
Pandora, YouTube, &
I’m not sold at first, soon bopping
like the drill arm on a derrick,
singing along as if I know the words.
It fills me with the sense
of many cities I have left to visit.

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"How Do You Know You're Welcome?"

                                         —overheard in a parking lot

it’s difficult. fear leads. fear first.

strangers in a room sprout shadows

baring claws & teeth. I can’t approach,

wait for touch of vibrations

from a voice. hellos chill me

like snowball strikes to the back of my neck.

small talk sets off mayhem rockets

in the underskin. all I want to do is run,

or else embrace, caress, kiss. instead,

I crack wise, engage in pratfalls—

anything for laughter: frolicking,

easy delight that sounds like, Come.

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"How Long Have You Been Feeling Tired?"

                                         —medical questionnaire  

Airways blocked from a life
spent snorting lines of whatever off my desk,
smoking, overeating—I couldn’t
run a lap around the ballfield without swearing

death is better than exhaustion.
I breathe in & whistle like a woodwind.
I gasp, pant, dizzied with spots
like the yellowish glow of lightning bugs.

I oversleep my own need to escape.
A tread-worn tire, I should be replaced;
here I am, held on by lugs,
moving when the road seems hot & long.

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"Why Doesn't Anyone Light Candels for Breakfast?"

                                         [question asked by Kathleen Cassen Michelson]

Who has time for subtlety before a cup of coffee?
Who wants to say This is because I love you
when we’ve spent eight hours wrestling for covers,
evicting the dog from our tender centers? Sleep
latches grappling hooks & climbs our backs,
tipping our heads toward the edge until we see stars,
flickering lightbulbs, cobwebs on the ceiling,
until we think ourselves alone in cosmic silence.
Look at any stranger dining late at a table for one,
candles fluttering ghost-like over the red drape
of cloth, scents of bread & mop water merging
nearby in overload of indecency. Disheartening
to think of this. Worse still if it’s one of us.

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Downpour erasing I-79,
northbound lanes
a single line
of cars, semis, buses
half a mile past Elkview
where the gold pickup
lost its hold on gravity.

Must have hit standing water
on the bridge, must have
flown. It’s by itself &
upside-down with shatter pattern
like a dropped cocktail glass—
negative perfection.

We, safe in our turtle shells,
crawl past, wonder after
injury, ending. Each disaster
could be ours
were we five minutes faster,
did we not stop for coffee
or to fumble with the radio,

if not for coincidence
conjuring divinity—
books call that magical thinking,
but I like my thoughts
with magic, & I like the rain,
its sound on the car’s roof
an assembly line for breathtaking calm.

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Remain Calm

Never know from where the sirens come,
why they lean on a breaking, breathy note.
No message arrives in my e-mail queue,

scrolls across the bottom banner
on the TV news, announcing air raid,
chemical spill, tornado churning,

prison break, the Rapture.
It’s noise without news settling
in this old house of a city: phantasmagoric

caterwauling weaving worry in my chest.
At my sliding door, I seek a storm,
risk a step outside, inhaling &

sticking my thumb in the air. Not a whir.
No scent of any distant fire. Not even
raindrops wetting my lips with theirs.

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Ace Boggess is author of six books of poetry, most recently Escape Envy (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2021). His writing, both poetry and prose, has appeared in hundreds of literary journals, including Harvard ReviewNotre Dame Review, The Bellingham Review, Rattle, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly, J Journal, Mid-American Review, and Southern Humanities Review. He received a fellowship for fiction from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison, an experience he writes about with intensity and humor.

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