Gary Percesepe ~ 6 Prose Poems


We are born, buried for a while, then spring up just as everything
is clos­ing. ~ John Ashbery

Judges marched back­wards up the steps. I saw it was time to ques­tion the trees. Now all the leaves lie brown in the ditch. Girls gone. The new­ly shoed hors­es fled the barn in dis­gust. The road, or is it roadbed, winds into a new land­scape and runs away with us while our mood tries its best to stay fixed.

All we need to do is stay. It’s easy to get lost, for a boy always feels he’ll nev­er have what he alone has nev­er had. I had for­got­ten what a bird looked like. My thoughts kept wan­der­ing down to the riv­er to have a look.

I began to think that only death can­cels all our engage­ments. I thought: You came here in a fuck­ing Ford. Now what?

From here I could hear the sad bells of oth­er home­towns. My tires had spat out miles like spools of thread. Just one drop of athe­ism lasts a long time in this landscape.

Clouds were banked and stacked, each jock­ey­ing for the top posi­tion before slid­ing back again, as if moved by sun rays, each promised to a brides­maid. I felt again I had been returned to the nom­i­na­tive case.

We always stay the same, and the peo­ple we have been in the past whiz by until the end of time.


Light Turnout

Something in the dirty sal­ad of lies stuck in my throat. I felt that dread of the future pecu­liar to moth­ers. I shut down the engine, then thought bet­ter of it and took a dri­ve through the prairie. New rev­e­la­tions await­ed. One more mile could save my life, then anoth­er. It was eas­i­er this way. There was the world’s largest spool of thread, and across the street, a woman who lived in a shoe, com­plete with gift­shop and tav­ern. I pulled in and shared a beer with a local cit­i­zen named Birdie who told me he’d relo­cat­ed his mind once he untan­gled his para­chute. This seemed more than a metaphor. He leaned over to kiss me. I ducked and paid my bill. Exiting, I saw some tan­gled trees that looked like sea­weed in the twi­light. Clouds were shift­ing to pur­ple and a cool breeze blew my hat down the road. I saw then that Birdie had fol­lowed me out. He had my hat. “What peo­ple for­get about her,” he said, ges­tur­ing at the old woman in the shoe who tow­ered over the road­side, “was how she whipped all them kids and put ‘em all to bed.” “Thank you,” I said, accept­ing the hat. “No broth, either,” I added, but he wasn’t track­ing. Instead, he grabbed me by the shoul­ders and turned me back around. “You feel the need that almost every­one in a defeat­ed coun­try must feel,” he said.


Adriana Imagines Her Death

First, a vision of a square of blue sea, a huge red rock. Then my life­less body would float from wave to wave beneath the sky for ages. The gulls would peck at my eyes, the sun would burn my breast and bel­ly, the fish would gnaw at my back. At last I would sink to the bot­tom, would be dragged head down­ward toward some icy, blue cur­rent that would car­ry me along the seabed for months and years among sub­ma­rine rocks, fish, and sea­weed, and floods of limped sea­wa­ter would wash my forehead.


Lost Father

I’d read some­where that at cer­tain hours of the night you can slip into a par­al­lel world: an emp­ty apart­ment where the light wasn’t switched off, on a dead-end street. It’s where one finds objects lost long ago: a lucky charm, a let­ter, an umbrel­la, a key. A dog that fol­lowed me through the streets of Paris. The dog walked in front of me. At first, it looked around to check that I was fol­low­ing, and then it walked at a steady pace, cer­tain that I would fol­low. I walked at the same slow pace as the dog. Nothing inter­rupt­ed the silence. Grass seemed to grow in between the cob­ble­stones. Time had ceased. Facades of build­ings, the trees, the glim­mer of the street­lamps took on an inten­si­ty that I had nev­er seen in them before.

The entrance halls of cer­tain build­ings retain the echo of foot­steps of those who used to cross them and who have since van­ished. Something con­tin­ues to vibrate after they have gone, fad­ing waves, but which can still be picked up if one listens.

I thought of my father. I imag­ined him in that room on the dead-end street, or in a café just before clos­ing time, sit­ting alone under the neon lights, look­ing through his files. He is work­ing late. There is still a chance that I will find him.



It is the hour at last to replace my face. The archi­tec­ture here is far from reas­sur­ing. Every night we tal­ly the dead, but no one is ever miss­ing. I sat in bed and tried to write this poem. The pup­py nipped at my hand which hung over the side of the bed. I tried some sen­tences, but noth­ing seemed to work the way it should. Imagine me preg­nant and in pro­file and it’ll explain the pres­i­dent. He is the bee in the mat­tress. My cal­en­dar is in order. My clothes clos­et is ship shape. I licked blood from my fin­ger and thought things like, Would I rec­og­nize my obit­u­ary? I felt I want­ed to creep into an arc­tic cave to check the rec­tal tem­per­a­ture of the biggest bear. I thought of all those nev­er famous men. Fame makes you lazy. All you know is ears. All wars are use­less to the dead. That’s when I real­ized my granny called me Flapdoodle and I don’t know two specks about what’s com­ing next. The dog looked at me, head tilt­ed, as if to say we are all carved from the same car­rot. Amy & Valerie hot­ted up my inbox which oth­er­wise was dig­ni­fied and stale. I thought of all my old lovers, how fine they were now. Finally sort­ed out, a hap­py thought for each. Goodbye, girls, good­bye! All my best thoughts limp after you.


Captain Ahab Surveys the Damage at the Press Conference

The women in the back wore dead smiles. They all had the supe­ri­or look of peo­ple out of work. A sign hung in the hall­way said, “No sui­cides per­mit­ted here.” Heavy heart­ed cheers arose from the gem col­ored polos in the front. Ahab mount­ed the podi­um like fate into the lone Atlantic. He spoke at length of the per­mit­ting stars which weave round them trag­ic graces. Reporters glared back, cru­ci­fix­ion in their eyes. Ahab’s face was a pale half-a-loaf face. “Avast!” he cried. “Sing out for new stars.” “Will you be requir­ing all Americans to wear masks, sir?” some­one asked. “Mask, flask,” stormed the Captain. Then was heard a ter­rif­ic, loud, ani­mal sob like that of a heart-strick­en moose. It was the Attorney General, hot as Satan’s hoof. “Stand by me,” Starbuck prayed, his Quaker voice atrem­ble. “Hold me, blind me, O ye blessed influ­ences!” Ahab rowed on into the wind. Snowflakes tum­bled in feath­ery con­fu­sion, won­der­ful­ly white against the night, smoth­er­ing the whole dirty, roar­ing, guilty city in inno­cence and silence. Like the unabat­ed Hudson when that noble Northman flows nar­row­ly but unfath­om­ing­ly through Poughkeepsie. The virus was allud­ed to, nev­er men­tioned. But it was the white­ness of the thing that above all appalled, said Flask. “This white­ness,” said the third mate, “keeps her ruins for ever-new.”  “Flask, Flask,” roared Ahab. “Flask is a but­ter­less man.”


Gary Percesepe is the author of eight books, most recent­ly The Winter of J, a poet­ry col­lec­tion pub­lished by Poetry Box. He is Associate Editor at New World Writing. Previously he was an assis­tant fic­tion edi­tor at Antioch Review. His work has appeared in Christian Century, Maine Review, Brevity, Story Quarterly, N + 1, Salon, Mississippi Review, Wigleaf, Westchester Review, PANK, The Millions, Atticus Review, Antioch Review, Solstice, and oth­er places. He resides in White Plains, New York, and teach­es phi­los­o­phy at Fordham University in the Bronx.