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Sean burke




From what I gather, a goshawk with eyes
like peppercorns fallen to the floor 
and picked up with wetted finger 
had been the first initiate in the Sacred 
Order of the Half-Sleeping Things
to decode the décolleté SOS in the chancellor’s dress
and swoop down its own shrinking throat. 
An overripe strawberry did it later on 
but by then the hoopla had cooled. 
Somewhere seemingly worn down 
by mall fires and modified hexes, 
there was still the glowering child—
trapped, flailing, mashed between girders—
while other children lingered imperfectly, 
their century rebuked. The cultists had readied 
their time shifter and christened it The Joke. 
Though the living godhead made a lovely centerpiece, 
all the dinnerware save the one cup broke. 
We had it narrowed to a repeating glitch 
in the cryptogram or simple slip of the 
harbinger’s tongue, pieced it together 
when someone out the ambassadress’s bay window 
broke so bloodlessly we thought space, 
in its feral inertia, had come loose again 
at the seams. Eloise, you getting all this?
Let’s role play tonight: I’ll be Expanse 
and you take Collapse. No, I don’t even 
try anymore. I get down on the floor, 
dislocate my bones, and slither around
with the word “leg” dangling out of my 
mouth. That, or some other word.




came like a mist from a wormhole that ripped 
through the librarian’s stocking, then receded as quick 
back to some far-off dimension with salubrious weather.
“We were conditioned to be infinite, 
but it is not in our temperament,” 
sighed the librarian, pulling a cigarette from her purse 
and pulling a drag with pursed lips. “The thing of it is,
we are too meek. Hayseeds could hold us in.” 
And one had to admit what she said made some sense
even if despite ourselves—books regathered 
on the shelves—we knew we couldn’t resist what muted 
attractions (fate?) had led to this in the first place. 
In essence, we’d taken heart in defeat, bird shapes 
paper-mâchéd to our essence. The worst of us 
feared the worst best and we’d grown impossibly
wary of weaponized handshakes... Yet to think 
how easily we could say fuck all, hop in the car, 
head to hell-knows-where, park in a nameless lot, 
spread out on the hood and eyeball the sun’s arch, 
thinking of nothing but shapes shade may take 
among strangers with bad hair and bona fide 
grace as they idle and toil, half or full assing 
the recursive rigmarole, inexhaustibly tired—
Thoughts one can’t do and can’t shake.
In the end (nigh), what difference does it make?
We are powerless to all that devours us.


We Didn’t Believe in How the Deal Went Down


The tortoise’s riddle was bullshit. 
The mystic’s acolytes calcified 
on the outskirts of the city. 
The river, on closer look, 
was only a barrel of salt. 
Conjured from deep-water caverns, 
police rose from the sea, 
doffed their caps to the elderly, 
and walked their beat in a crabwalk 
twenty feet over the earth. 
But one had to wonder: 
if it wasn’t to bind the air about our heads 
with a doleful familiarity—
however aberrantly glamorous
it might at times appear—
then why exactly? To inhabit 
ourselves wildly, with no proof 
of solicitude or tenderness? 
To be rankled and abstracted? 
A small, ostensibly vital part 
had gone on at a remove 
from our quiet living room 
festooned with moss bloom
and hemlocks cropping up 
from no place, calling out, 
“Hey, whatever’s cool. Relax 
a spell. Lay your head in my lap 
and watch it disappear...” 
Without it, we’d grown senseless. 
Lucky then, Yvonne came along, 
grabbed our arms, shook us, 
pointed, and warned, “Look! 
Our hearts have gone astray!
The cops are on their way!” 
even if she did so in a way 
that made us look instead 
at the commotion of her hands 
and listen to the tiny whooshing 
her panicked hands made. 
For with that we understood 
the urgency at last, put our involute
energies to use—however limited
they may be—and fled
squad patrols in the hollows, 
out the forest into anything 
that wasn’t inhospitably afire. 
We grew smaller on the horizon 
but soon recovered entirely.





Sean Burke lives in South Berwick, Maine. His poems have been published in a handful of journals including The Destroyer, past simple, Spooky Boyfriend, Jellyfish, and Now Culture.