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Brian Patrick Heston

My Parents Dream New Ceilings

Mumbling Prayers, I Make Crosses in the Air

Trev From Around the Way Becomes Legend

In the City of Light

Welcome to the Future

My Parents Dream New Ceilings

Over cups of Maxwell House,
they discussed the bluest blue,
like the kind in the paintings
of that guy who chopped
his ear off, or the reddest red
streaking down the mud-brown
paneling that covered every wall
in the living room—whatever
they wanted in their moments
of joy. Always there had to be
a crystal chandelier shimmering
over the couch, the one
with foam entrails leaking out,
its springs razoring cuts
into anyone who had the gall
to lounge too long and consider
how unlikely it was to be here
and now, to exist in the same
world as savannah grass
and tundra flowers, the Eiffel
Tower and Mr. Softee trucks
jangling onto the block, calling
to anyone who had fifty cents
to spare. If you didn’t,
you had to ponder a cone
melting down your arm, until
all that was left was the sweet-
bitter of past pleasure. My parents
also dreamed of a new living room,
plush furniture to go with it.
I often heard them whispering.
Dad complained about blistered
feet, the blocks he walked.
This was when people spent
hours circling employment ads
in the newspaper. Mom drowsed
beside him, trying to get in
a few hours before she had to raise
herself again. They seethed about
the gas bill, electric, and school clothes.
Many times Mom and Dad
screamed about being in a falling
apart marriage in a falling
apart neighborhood in a falling
apart house, where all there was
to eat was baloney and Wonder—
pancake batter and a stick
of margarine until the next
food stamps came through.
The raging often ended with regret
and kissing, promises to never
yell again. Then they’d return
to the ceilings, that horizon
peeking through the one zigzagging
above like a water-stained map.
They knew it was only talk,
they weren’t fools. It was taking
a break from hustling lives to sit
and consider beauty for a while,
a way to rise from too many nights
without end, which none of us
can do without for long. 

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Mumbling Prayers, I Make Crosses in the Air

Trauma beckons memory to smoldered
places, and what I remember
                             most are weeds—a piss stench
drifting from the alley on Allison Street.

All us kids used to run through it. Inside,
what our block discarded:
                             wooden crates from an abandoned
fish market, disembodied clothes, scattered

polaroids, and a couch too waterlogged
to burn. All I get is fog instead
                             of a face: no shape or color—
not even a mole or scar. There’s always

a voice in that chasm before sleep
comes. You want some Pop Rocks?
                             It asks. The body recalls
what the mind blanked out, this invisible

appendage that seems both flesh and not—
easily breached by fire. Years
                             later, it even followed me
on Avenue Colonel Henri beneath

budding ash trees, past the Hotel du Lion,
the McDonald’s beside it,
                             down into the moldering
catacombs, each corridor named

for a street above. Skulls stared from piles,
walls of bright white bone—
                             shipwrights, bakers, and fools—
never kings. They looked like they also

got lost on a pilgrimage from their lives.
Wrenched from where
                             I stood, I heard the dark
mutter, I got Yahoo, too. Now the wound

festered open—the air turning arctic
as the voice drew me
                             like a piper, the sort
of detail I’ll never shake. This is how

I came to understand being battered by
what I couldn’t change.
                             He flashed a knife,
whispering for me not to speak or yell

unless I wanted to die. I didn’t want
to die. Like all history
                             this is revised
until it becomes what can be survived.

It’s all right coos this voice that daily
sucks me down,
                             leaving me to claw myself
to the surface again before I drown.

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Trev From Around the Way Becomes Legend


It’s you on the news, decades older, still obsessed with all that creeps and crawls with hard to figure faces. From a hospital bed, you explain how the Taipan lay lethargic in its vivarium, one of the many habitats that now fills your mom’s house, the place where breast cancer took her a few years back. You now had a bounty of space you could only dream about in your squat childhood room that fit only you and the garter, chameleon, or tarantula Mrs. Shirley let you keep.


Once there was a snapping turtle you housed in a bucket. Too small for the space you gave it, so it didn’t budge at its shell being tapped or the pudgy boy hand wriggling above its beak. This was too much for Mrs. Shirley, and she demanded you take that crazy shit back. She let you get another tarantula instead, the one Petey stepped on by accident.


You were setting it up to impress Trina, who you’d been crushing on since she moved to the block. She was too old to be interested, especially in dorks who knew more about lizards than girls. Just before Peanut Petey’s foot came down, you reached for what to you was not a pet, but your entrance into the world’s shining shadowed places.


It cracked when crushed, spewing translucent goo that dribbled down the steps with its guts. The air bristled with yuck. A few of us even dry-heaved. Through it all was your quick scream, your leaking eyes. You picked up its remains and carried them away like a stillborn pup.


I’m glad to see the same chipmunk smile when you describe to the reporter how you reached for the snake before you understood its temperament. Temperament is everything, you say. Nothing really wants to bite, unless it thinks you’re food, and my ass is too big to swallow.


The reporter then asked if you knew that Taipans were one of the most dangerous animals in the world? I belly-laugh because from your gleaming eyes, I still know what’s coming. You lean up on your elbows and say, there’s no more dangerous beast than man. A line you heard in a movie once and never forgot. You then reach for the pudding cup the nurse left, what you’d been eyeing since the interview began. That’s where it ends, the reporter sending things back to the anchor, whose big mustache shivers with a chuckle before moving on to an oil rig burning off the coast of Louisiana. 

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In the City of Light

For JWH (1943-2022)

This is where I first discovered my father in his youth, stepping
             onto Walnut Street
after his shift at King’s Pizza. Vietnam conflagrated, the draft
             had begun—he was in love.
His uncle Alan flashed into his head, lost somewhere
             in the Ardennes
eighteen years before. Alan, who took him on daily jaunts
             down Philly streets, always
stopping at Jimmy’s Drugstore for milkshakes. He stuck straws
             up his nose, a barking
walrus who couldn’t bring himself to kill warehouse rats.
             My father
can’t remember his face, and I give thanks for the fathomless
             air—this walk.
Just as I give thanks to you, Dad, for the changeling night
             you met Mom. She sat
at a table close to the counter, pouring salt and drawing her name
             in the crystals. You told her
your name, so she drew yours, too. At first, she was only another
ordering a slice after a flick at the Boyd. You carried her with you
             onto the El—all the way
home to Gaul Street. At your physical the next day, you sat
             bare-assed as the doctor
labeled you 4-F. Feet too flat. Heart too large. Lose weight if you
             want to see fifty. The girl
walked you from the Liberty Bell to the Art Museum. Your dogs
             barked trying to keep up,
as mine do now while watching a swan in the Seine, the same river
             gazed on by Alan after
Paris’ liberation. There he is stopping to read a letter from the aunt
             who might’ve been,
a grin beaming around his spent cigarette. He stuffs the letter into
             his dress blues,
and then I watch him walk you by the hand along the sparking 
             impressionist waters,
where you both stop to look back just before fading into light.

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Welcome to the Future

In this creased photo from then, I see you crouched in the fog
at the wrack line, swearing
             to see Champ’s neck snake from Lake Champlain.
You always
             took heart in looking for monsters you knew weren’t

real. A month later, your mother found you on the bathroom floor
with an empty bottle of Ambien.
             Barely awake, you mumbled for help or to be left
alone. They pumped
             your stomach, then you went away again. This time,

I didn’t go looking. Like Ichthyostega, I was flailing to paddle from
my own depths. So here I am,
             a long/short way from there, watching crows frolic in
the Grand Bassin
             in the Luxembourg Gardens. Their inky feathers glisten,

their wings splash the air. The last time we talked, you told me
you taught Yoga and volunteered
             in soup kitchens. In another world, you said, you’d be in line,
too, bowl in hand—
             could be still if you stumbled back into the dark. In our

Vermont days, crows were everywhere, hovering over hayfields
and carrion. In this future,
             fountain cherubs shoulder a bowl of light. Guards watch,
but not me,
             they seek their own impending catastrophe: the next

car plowing a crowd, another lunatic with a semi-automatic—the last
flight of the final bee. In the past,
             I would’ve only told you about their cradled guns, the way their
eyes scan the day’s
             gray reliquary. Instead, I sit at a bench with a notebook

and pen, describing to you the gaggles of kids contorting their faces
in the water while they sail 
             toy clipper ships that never sink, how their parents doze
in rickety chairs. It’s spring’s
             first warmest day, the horizon fills with storm,

and I know our troubles don’t amount
to glaciers, but I hope you’re somewhere (NO BREAK)
             green still, joyful as a crow,
bright as a fountain, seizing
             the future before it ends.

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Brian Patrick Heston grew up in Philadelphia. His full-length collection, If You Find Yourself, won the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Prize. His poems have won awards from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation and the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation. They have appeared in such publications as Southern Review, Hotel Amerika, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Missouri Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, River Styx, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, and Ghost Fishing, an anthology of eco-poetry published by the University of Georgia Press. He currently teaches creative writing and literature at Truman State University in Missouri.

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