THE QUARTZ OCTET

BY JOHNNY CUELLAR

prologue: her words not mine

“if we find ourselves
on a dead island
still flying around the sun
yet no longer moving,

it’s that men
and women both
became
the judge
jury
prosecutor
defendant
victim
guilty
innocent,

and executioner

all wrapped up in
one package held together—

a bottle full of flames
with a loose cork
and some wire.

and our beautiful blue marble
will fade away
screaming
in slow motion.

verse #25070032ZJul19, the book of _____

1: slide rule

she fell through 15,000 feet tonight,
a glimmer in the moonlight
filtering through clouds of gray.

all quiet now, the winds hushed
since twilight fell,
but the branches still sway,
dead leaves still rattle in the gutters
along this road to somewhere old.

frozen like shattered glass,
airborne when the windshield cracks,
the clouds are thorny shadows
surrounding the fading stars,
burned forever into memory—
and overexposed like film
left in the cold summer sun.

there’s no time to try now,
that time is long past and lost.

three loud bursts, then silence,
taking cover, all because
she fell through 15,000 feet tonight.

2: behind glass

the center waits,
aches to burst into red and gold

with imprints of songs
and sunset skies, while
the hands that summon memories

of sparkling eyes behind glass,
broken now by wire and satellite
where the cardinal directions cross,

shake and feel nothing.

storms rise ever on the edge
of dreams of dreams of yesterday,
towering castles of blue and black –

reflected in sparkling eyes
behind glass.

3: fourteen minutes

he said it was going to be alright while
evening came on all too quickly at last
and she held his hand between the seats.

the needle was on empty but who cared
just how far you got now, because
where could you go in fourteen minutes?

and she sang and held the wheel tight
the rear-view mirror reflected lights
and city spires purple blue and black

he kissed her on the cheek just once.

the sun had nearly set on their time
headlights spun across the white lines
and she turned around to take them home

he held her hand between the seats
bit his lip as she turned to speak
he forced a smile and moved to hold her

her favorite song faded from the radio
and though everything was over for them
her tears evaporated into the rising suns

and they smiled because the end was okay.

4: color of your eyes

i watched your feet leave the stone,
eyes shimmering with fear of the fire to come,
hair flying behind in the ashen air
while light from the smoldering sun reflected
on the strands like precognitive flames—

your face a lingering slideshow of a life unlived,
a future gone
and you wept as your spread your wings to fly.

i never knew who you were,
where you came from, where you were going,
only
the color of your eyes,
the sound of your voice.

you were there when the light of a thousand suns
drew the air from our lungs, a hell glowing
like a heaven only you could see through glass
shattered into a million crystals dressed in red.

we dreamt in the cellar,
shivered in the snow that still fell when you leapt,
dreamt of rain and glass and the color green
and you sang yourself to sleep.

you never spoke but only coughed
as we walked the empty road to where you once lived,
with the tree and the trampoline and the sheds,
while your shoes stuck to the yellow lines
and you kicked your feet up to balance.

you walked until you couldn’t,
and so we found a bridge between one town and the next,
washed the blood from your feet
and i offered to carry you
and you cried out,

looking up with eyes too tired to sleep again,
into a sky clouded and crossed
and shook your head as your cracked lips moved.

i never knew who you were,
and you wept as you spread your wings

interlude: firewatch

firewatch in an empty house

hours spent pacing darkness from end to end,
footfalls never ceasing.

they told me to lose the boots.

flickers at the corner of my eyes,
strange sensations as i pass these empty rooms
while the world sleeps.
what is it that i’m even looking for anymore?

the width of the hall seems to vary
turn to turn, minute to minute.
the place seems to breathe
in thin trickles of moonlight dripping through the blinds.

i volunteer for this every night
as my shades don’t seem to close out the light of day
even after the flags are brought down
to a familiar tune every damn twilight.

this floor shines like eyes,
these doorframes seem to be shut up with memories
from a life that’s distant
and walled up and away.

there’s no relief from this shift,
watching shadows slide from west to east
as the night just keeps drawing on,
my heart ticking away
every
fucking
second.

second best, it seems to say,
as i turn at the end of the hall.
thinking about
souls never returning to familiar walls
and the walls i’ll never see again.

so i turn my heels again,
eyes illuminated from underneath by the petty
light
of a cell phone.

5: dnr

left behind,
hand outstretched in the solid black.
shoes full of holes and rocks
cut the cold pavement as trees whisper
“give up, give in,”

and there’s no home, no hand,
just bottles and cans and dreams
of long sleep without rest,
driving tired feet ever forward
on the road to the end, to nothing,

stumbling over the stones and
bloodied and bruised by vision

after vision after vision
turned into a nightmare hurricane,
feeling for a weak spot
and finding it.
time skips a beat
to listen for an ending,

in the sounds of dawn and spring,
the ringing of bells
and the band playing,
all conducted by a shaking hand—

a silent symphony
only imagined
as the music plays on
and on
and on

6: we wanted to know

we lived in the walls,
shrank in the shadows.
we told lies in the dark,
hid from the eyes in the light.

we wanted to know.
i wanted to know.

we hid, we cried out,
for everyone to ignore.

we were the hidden,
wept when we read of the sun,
the sky, the touch of the wind.

we waited in the dark
until the lights came for us,
one night,
wept for the hands to free us,
to let us run again,

to the cold stone walls,
grates, ovens, pipes
of the destroyed, our home,
our world that we never wanted,
the world that we never
wanted to leave.

“i just wanted to know,
i don’t want out, i wanted to know -”
don’t take us away,
don’t take us apart.

i wanted to know,
i never wanted to fly.

the hands reached in,
pulled us up into a world
unfamiliar,
of pain and so free and open
it was hard to breathe;
our empire crumbled,
the sacred sightlessness lost.

they knew that
we wanted to know.

7: your name was lost

i remember when you cried out,
seeing all the stars flood the sky
and you promised in the dying light
that you would never let the night die—

but the autumn glow left your fingertips,
and the warm dark depth of your eyes faded;
the candles died, and you found
new hallelujah in another song.

the dew on dark grass, a mirror of the sky
and a thousand little suns
hiding there, casting no shadows; you smiled,
softly, and the books burned
only when held open,
and your name was—

now! the clock’s quartz is shattered, hands
chipped and cracked and skipping seconds
scattered like shining radio static,
still clinging to the snow untouched,
and your name…

and your name was lost.

8: it’s time, i heard her say

i tripped
and fell into the ocean.
inverted, i gazed upward,
full of saltwater and wonder
and i dreamt i saw your gaze reflected,
refracted through temperatures

shining into view.
i feel myself drowning in you.

inhale on purpose.
take in that intoxicating taste of
being
lost
in
you.

eyes shimmering full of what-ifs
and “why didn’t you”s.

it should always have been
a little death by drowning,
a slight surrender to something
always
there.

i’ve hit the bed
and can only look
at the shimmer and sparkle
as gentle,
unforgiving breeze
breaks the surface and sun
into shards like
diamonds and silver
an angelic glow and safety razors
and they sink, and they sink

piercing me
with

who i should have been.

what i should have been to you.
and years have left me.

epilogue: without a sound

and then, the watch stopped,
a red second-hand swimming,
swimming in shallow water.

now waiting is all that remains

without a sound.

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