issue 47:

ash and bone and knotted rope: 10 psalms for the kingdom of nil

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poet's statement

- john sweet (bio)

The strength of poetry, it’s always seemed to me, is its limited audience.  More and more, those who read it are a cult. Poetry, when placed against the other creative artforms out there (the lucrative ones), is a secret society.  People want to watch movies, and YouTube, and Netflix. They want to play video games and fart around on Facebook. If they want to actually read large chunks of wordage that tell some sort of narrative (and some do, I’m told), they want to read BOOKS.  Fiction, with plots. Non-fiction, with life-affirming messages or juicy smear stories.  Poetry is what they were forced to read back in school, and to hell with that noise.


And there’s our strength. When we write poetry, we are free to operate outside of financial demands, outside of The Court of Public Opinion (i.e. internet comment sections) - we are free to tell our truths without having to kiss any ass whatsoever.  When’s the last time you heard about a poet being raked over the coals by 100,000,000 anonymous strangers using fake names for something s/he said? Exactly.


Personally, I read the news these days and I worry about the death of democracy.  I worry about the rise of plutocracies, of autocracies, and the spread of fear and hatred based on willful ignorance. And I write.

meditation on war

- john sweet

the concept of
sorrow surrounded by joy and
this is how it was described to me

the artist with his throat slashed or
the one dragged by soldiers to the
wastelands at the edge of town,
buried in a shallow grave

this fear of ideas
is what i mean

of progress

your wife and children like a
hole in your head
where all the light leaks out and
you run, yes, but in what

you breathe, but everything
around you is poison

everyone you meet is the enemy

the future will only
prove me right on this

valleys of hope, mountains of fear

- john sweet

this idea of talking
politics with the willfully blind


this idea of digging holes

of finding a missing child hiding at
the bottom of every one


and would you give up everything
you’ve spent your life working for
if it would save someone else?


will you wallow naked in the
blood of a stranger’s wisdom?


consider the obvious

i have grown fat on a
lifetime of blind opinions


i have refused to die for
any number of petty reasons


kept thinking it might make me
a better person
than i knew myself to be

the frightened sparrow

- john sweet

flat expanse of houses beneath
pale october sunlight,
powerlines and telephone poles and gas stations,

distance to the river,
sister hanging out beneath the bridge and
we are not no one and this is not
nowhere but the possibility exists

the desert is within

grow up and then start to grow old

marry and then divorce

the smell of decay and of burning

bones buried in back yards

this woman i know who refuses to
believe that the freeway is a lie

thinks she’ll escape even though she’s
tied to her daughter, to her granddaughter

i give her a shovel and
show her where to dig

what she finds is herself but
her eyes are closed

says there’s nothing to see

asks why i don’t love her anymore

theology for the fucked and the forsaken

- john sweet

an addict like the rest of us and
welcome to the new world


understand that
the war has been lost


no god and no devil,
and so all failures are your own


all moments matter
but not the sum total


your life will be forgotten

your art will be consumed

no one ever promised us
anything better

song for fascists as they hang from the crossbeams beneath the late winter sun

- john sweet

we are empty-handed in the
season of uncrowned kings

we are the murderers of
orphaned children
and of their parents and we are
our own excuse for fear

we are defeat
in all its forms

a cancer like every god
we’ve ever invented

a poison
with no antidote

death without remorse and
why not?

who among the helpless
will stop us?

who among the corpses
of the poor truly matters?

a lifetime of
frightened silence is
as good an answer as any

no one teaches us to bleed, but we do

- john sweet


first dull grey light on a sunday
morning, late november, empty hands, and
who is it that wakes up contemplating suicide here,


and who is it that follows through?

who is that remembers
my father’s name?


bitter drunks and petty tyrants and so

i have stopped answering the phone

i no longer believe in picasso or in pollock,
in the hands of genius lying ragged and
bloody on the museum floor


i no longer believe in myself, and i
gave up on the rest of you a long time ago
i consider the clock
and then the calendar


all moments moving without pause
towards the future
and so the deaths of martyrs become eternal


thin rays of sunlight
pass through the blinds


through the uncertain snowfall and
who was the last person to see the missing child?


who will wear the
crown of rusted barbed-wire,
the cloak of tattered, tearstained flesh?



you cannot live
without being guilty


you cannot know peace
surviving on a diet of corpses, but


how many of us spend our lives trying?
how many times to do you have to die
before you can accept


even the simplest of such obvious truths?

start at one, i guess, and then
see where you go

in the future kingdom of subtle decay

- john sweet

and the praying man is
not your friend

the flesh of pilate is
worth its weight in gold and
the taste of blood can always be
washed away
with a mouthful of fire,
                      but listen

are you a believer
in the truth?

do you see the humor in
christians killing christians in
the name of god?

there’s a bigger picture here
in which all of our deaths
will be self-inflicted

there’s the smallest of moments
where we’re given the chance
to step back and
consider what this means

all of our failures begin
with such simple choices
                           as these


- john sweet

diane, always dreaming about the
rings of saturn, about warm beaches and
good wine, but not here,

                         not now

this is the wrong side
of the continent

this is where the streets all
end in cemeteries,
where every town is blanketed with
soft, dirty layers of ash and rust

early spring sunlight on cracked and
collapsing parking lights, on
poisoned soil, and we wait to see what grows

teenaged girls, maybe, all of them dying
of cancer or of diseases still
waiting to be named

despite everything

in the fading memory of the always-approaching future

- john sweet

not blue but grey

the kingdom of snow, of shadow

swallowed by shadow, where
every moment of doubt
blossoms into something more permanent


the age of gold and of slow starvation
and that you are always defined
by either one or the other


that you are stoned on the morning of
your father’s death and again
two days later when the news finally finds you


and you are not lost
but you are working on it


a nation of priests and whores,
of politicians with the heads of jackals,
and i take my place among them


i breathe in the poison that
passes for air and smile


i start the revolution from within

denying the revolution

- john sweet


Start quietly and w/ a belief in
ghosts. Remember that there is no
bravery in poetry. That there is

no real honor in truth. Make
everything you write autobiographical,
but then fill the margins w/ lies.
Photograph your children standing
at the water’s edge. Staring into
the sun. Name them after the
minor gods of other religions.
Teach them to forget their mother’s
name. The story can only really
begin after the last witch has been

end of issue 47. go back to issues page.

the poetry juicebox
an international poetry & art publication
the poetry juicebox