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James McKee writer

On Being Deciduous

by James McKee

Nothing like a storm
to blazon the wisdom
of wintering trees
that jettison their leaves.

Scrapping the glory
of an emerald canopy
lets them resist
wind-lash less:

not much can snag
on a skeletal twig.
The lushly-attached
gets its branches snapped.

They collude with loss
to claim, as their choice
from the catalog of griefs,
one spring relieves.

Off into the Sunset

There I go, sauntering along
as if I don’t notice
this bright amber evening already
auditioning for your memory,
though naturally I do.
You can tell I’m savoring how
this magic-hour sunlight
ignites tiny tiaras atop the upper edges
of each sombre object I pass
(car, stopsign, mailbox, car, wall),
like a swarm of small dawns I’ll remember
to describe for you later—
meaning now—
as a sizzlation,
but not just yet.
I’m still basking in the facets
that gleam from bark and steel and brick,
flecked with a luster that will linger
just an instant longer,
though now it’s arrested here.
Sort of. Anyway,
it looks like your mind—
your lovely, captious, queasy mind—is content
to cavort among these surfaces too, as if
the world’s tide of misery
has receded somewhere far beyond earshot,
exposing this block’s homely treasures
for us to admire with the just-
barely-not-ironic gusto
we share like a tic.
It can’t last; it doesn’t.
A sawtooth skyline steps in front of the sun,
some streetlamps blip on,
and the low-angled light
that’d made even the East River look good
for a moment,
departs. As do I.
You’ve plugged yourself back in,
and by the time you surface
from the cyan screenglow of your pent-up phone,
there’s nothing left to forget
but the moment I turned the corner
into everything that happens next.

A Visit from the E-Muse

Wow. Looks like someone needs a hug.
Lucky for you I’ve always gone
for that undead-at-noon affect,
that but-it’s-freezing sweat-glaze.
Mimic my insomniac speech-gush
all you like, but you’ll never
match my scorched-earth aplomb.
Let’s spare you a trip to the FAQs:
I awe like a diva with my avatars,
smack a few fanboys around for show
before (lol) upvoting them. I’m as meta
as a fractal node. Gauge my reach
by counting up the screens I cloud
with an ammoniac sheen of rage.

Want in, noob? Launch no threads
that don’t exclude, then just
keep subtracting till you belong
nowhere else. If anything I post
sounds like your cue to go full
IRL, you’ve read too many poems
I didn’t write. Asking what the memes
mean tags you as far too basic
to follow. Does anyone actually like
what they like? You’re not doing this right
unless you rig, for every mind
you’re mining, a playpen in the slag.

That’s it: just keep scrolling through
the troll-spew of comments to discover
your life-score, somewhere south
of loser. Don’t even, with the facepalm.
Remember our deal: you binge on a one-
quadrillionth wedge of bandwidth pie
as if my jonesing for quick hits of clicks
doesn’t matter, and I curate your uploads
as if they do. Don’t I keep your browser
barnacled in ads that contrive flattery
from hoarding your trivia, like a stalker?
You’re welcome. Remember what you said
would happen, if you ever caught me
livestreaming your bedroom again?
Me neither. Now, refresh that feed.

Víti, a Volcanic Lake in Iceland

                                                                                                for A.

Charcoal uplands, barren and crumpled.
Lunar distances, a serrated horizon,
low murky skies. Rain this morning.
Rain again soon.

A puddled uphill path, slimy
with trodden ochre mud, skirting
the pipes and outbuildings of a hydrothermal plant,
sleek and toylike and alien
against this jagged umber sea
of scabbed-over lava.

At the top of the rise, more mud
slickening the approach to the unfenced rim
of a fissured escarpment.
Down where the crater
plunges like a puncture,
our first glimpse of what we came for:
a blown-glass pool, improbably blue,
aglow like a sapphire ember,
stoked by breaths from a sun
slathers of cloud keep hidden.

We look and look,
but discover nothing
of that unlikely color
for these waters to mirror.

And so,
almost dissuaded from fancying ourselves
as likewise bedded, jewel-bright,
amid broken tracts of circumstance
but not quite,

we turn away as one
into the weather coming swiftly on.


James McKee enjoys failing in his dogged attempts to keep pace with the unrelenting cultural onslaught of late-imperial Gotham. His debut poetry collection, The Stargazers, was published in the otherwise uneventful spring of 2020, while his poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Burningword Literary Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, Another Chicago Magazine, New Ohio Review, Grist, New World Writing, Illuminations, CutBank, Flyway, THINK, The MacGuffin, and elsewhere. He spends his free time, when not writing or reading, traveling less than he would like and brooding more than he can help.