Four Poems by Kristofer Collins



The Departed

for Larry Levis



Behind the corner gas pumps someone has blessed
the late morning traffic with a mural, a procession
of skeletons sagging against the eastern face
of a remodeled bar, and back of that McConway
& Torley adds its daily share of poison to the air.
Larry Levis once intimated loneliness is undignified
then whistled a Billie Holiday tune into his own
last darkness. Did he slip his feet into the water
before walking away? Did he see these white
doses swallowed up by the trusting sky? In the end we all
become timid accountants tallying what we gave and all
we still owe. I come here for the noise and rabble
and a chance at that white horse. I sit at the bar,
lose myself not in the drink but in that river of voices.
Like the other three this river is contaminated,
but still I long for it and, though years will be taken
from me, I bury my head in that deep red rushing.
If I’m very still and listen closely my father’s voice
will surface like flecks of gold in a prospector’s
sieve. It’s true those who remain must carry the departed,
Larry. And there is no shame in that. Hell, it’s good to know
there’s something I still have to offer the so many
I have failed. Alone as I am there is much work to be done.



The Suicides of Paris

It’s spring again and the suicides of Paris are all the rage.
Twin sisters bound at the wrist and twined by bad blood
were pulled from the Seine. Here the Allegheny

is dredged and a stray B-52 becomes the new museum attraction.
Think of it, an atomic bomb right there in the river. Look
at the bodies on the shore. Taste the ash on the air. I know

an artist who insists on leaving the erasures apparent in his pencil
sketches. They fetch good money in Shadyside galleries
where we feel the ghost lines glowing. Old home movies

of Lawrenceville are shown. The colors of the neighborhood
soak into the shoreline soil. Men in old Steelers jerseys
and sometimes bare-chested dive from wobbly canoes,

their children delighted and terrified by the enormity
of the river. The mothers are witnesses to infinite hunger
and the white sky droops across the faces of white buildings.

All of it the same smooth white of scars across the wrist
floating there on the dark and heaving water.


Acts of Contrition

for Jason Irwin

The bell tower burned down the same year my father busted his right wrist
chasing a wobbly foul ball right off the garage roof near Butler and 62nd
and the bells we hear this evening chiming Vespers were first recorded
closer to Cincinnati than to Morningside Avenue, nearer the whispering
west than to these brown choppy waters that take tugs and all the scrap they haul,
concealing them in the shade of metal towers, dark as Washington in funeral regalia
who said too much suffering is never a good thing for any city, his cold eyes
falling across the scabby wet knee of Millvale broken out in blood and beer
and the warning we hear watching the bruised hands of Maxo Vanka in prayer,
and just as it took only one good day for James Wright to declare the impossibility
of death so this one good shot of whiskey absolves us of the burden of our days,
as you become a shadow now fallen across the still surface of your glass, happy to risk
the undertow, foolishly assured I or some good stranger here is strong enough
to carry you should your will give out.


Apology to John Dorsey for Missing His Reading

Let’s blame it on being middle-aged. Let’s say
the languid bodies of the crowd kept me
from coming. My own starched skin prickled
at the touch of the sun and my eyes at full-squint
could not find the way. Let’s say I am a liar.
Strange to think we spend our time this way,
but writing these poems is no different
than drinking at the bar. It’s in our blood, I suppose.
It required generation upon generation of bullshitters
to contort my tongue in this precise fashion. Perhaps
you suffer from this same genetic malady. Instead
I made my way through the dry brush and potted
re-bar to the water. When you get down to its level
it’s black as mirror backing. Nothing but shadows
in there, and the garbage floating down from Blawnox.
Look all you want you’ll never have to confront
your own image here. The muck just won’t allow it.
On days like these I prefer the river to our poems.
If I had to see myself, as I so often do in your words
I don’t know how I could return home, go back to my wife
and believe that yes everything will work out fine.


Kristofer Collins is the publisher of Low Ghost Press and the books editor at Pittsburgh Magazine. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife Dr. Anna Johnson and their son Cassidy.


3 Responses to “Four Poems by Kristofer Collins”

  1. “The Departed” is wonderful. Thanks …

  2. John Dorsey Says:

    Kris, No apology needed, but I always enjoy seeing you and I certainly appreciate the poem, which is fantastic.

  3. Kristofer Collins Says:

    Thank you, gentlemen!

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