Quarantined, I’m playing the jazz you hated.
Gerry Mulligan & Ben Webster huff luscious sax,
while Miles Davis & Dizzie Gillespie trumpet
sound that won’t dovetail in my mind as neatly as a drawer.
I imagine you arrive in my music, summoned
by sound, risen like Neptune from the pearly waves.
Sitting beside me, you mull a lick; your foot
discovers the syncopation, head nods in pleasure.
Lately, I’ve become sensitized to music, saddened
by synthesizers & blunted CD frequencies,
those highs & lows where feeling explodes—
then lingers—cut off like you were in your prime.
I want to be with you, pretend we’re with artists
playing with fervor, exciting as a free-
fall dive into the ocean, after our arms lift
into ballerinas fifth position, hands join in prayer.
The CD lacks such animation, forgets flesh fingers
on brass keys, blunts summits that pierce clouds
& bring us skin to skin. No longer coupled, your death
meddles, comes between us like film over burnt milk.
If only I could spoon away what separates us,
hear the man death has silenced, erased—
my emptiness swelling with each new note,
your absence the darkness between them.
Unpublished poem , 2020
FOR THE BLACKBIRDS: BARBER’S “ADAGIO FOR STRINGS”
This waterfall of music tumbles in slow motion,
the pace we travel to die.
Birds know what’s finite. Clouds, too.
And Barber knows how to celebrate mourning. Sound staggers
under the horse-blanket weight of resignation, then
sweetly accepts death’s transformation.
Isn’t death a kind of love for the next opening?
Two blackbirds flattened against stones on my
dirt drive and two dead inside a stack of winter tires.
I hear them sing, We’re in the spring of our deaths.
My door opens to fields, where I see birds in flight and at my feet.
I don’t scoop the carcasses into the trash
but let them rot where they fell, feeding earth,
and I listen to the living blackbirds: tenors pass a chalice of melody,
altos shade notes casket-dark,
sopranos soar on chambered wings,
and I hum with Barber, a blackbird funeral, while
their corpses pay witness to the living sun, their oil-slick sheen
beaming as they decay on the drive.
PACKING HIS THINGS
Weary, I empty the dryer,
smooth wrinkles from his clothes.
Work shirts stained with oil paint
rest neat in the suitcase
next to his jeans.
In the bathroom, I pack his toothbrush,
his toothpaste, razor, and deodorant.
I give up his flannel I sleep in,
stash framed photos in a drawer.
When I try to close the holes
in my home, the half-empty closet
and medicine chest,
they won’t fill up, they’re gravity
pulling me into emptiness.
Now, I long for one of those shirts,
his scent of sweat and paint,
to cover the dent on his side of the bed,
so, when I roll over, I
don’t fall into the future.
tastes of vinegar,
stinks like the litterbox piss of elk.
This poem is scarlet lips, stiletto hooves,
Pulls hair, leaves the kettle screaming More!
On all fours arches its back—
This poem sips whiskey, sucks dick, runs with scissors,
leaps a mean grand jeté.
Poem licks balls, shivers flies off its flank,
noses your palm with heaving breath.
Bangs the headboard, slips hair from tongue, rolls naked in wine,
splays arms overhead.
Oh poem, spill milk,
cup breasts, surly.
Hock, hind, and whicker.
BUS RIDE WITH POTLUCK AND APATHY
For Colin Kaepernick and all warriors for justice
A chorale of stories and chatter
leaves me weighing the impact
an oncoming truck might have on this bus.
My mind spins out like a pamphlet-crazed mimeo
and trees brown by the highway
bend from exhaust.
People kill time jawing trivialities,
yarns scrubbed for seatmates,
dull as faded newsprint.
We watch a Coca-Cola
semi pass, its nostalgic logo teaching
the world to sing in harmony.
Talk of Thanksgiving,
but not the Water Protectors,
weeps down the windshield,
rain more urgent than cheers for the big game.
Since the election, a gang yanked a noose
around a Black boy’s neck,
another went wilding in a tricked-out pickup
and hospitalized two men for holding hands,
three hundred Sioux were injured by police:
He just smiled and shot my kneecaps.
Passengers with potluck hiccup gossip
with no sense of urgency, bright
neon eyes watch the savagery, distant as stars.
I ask the night:
Open our mouths and hearts,
silence those who would die for nothing,
who gripe when a player takes a knee,
as if the flag now symbolized something human.
I embrace my Indian sister of the Dalit caste sentenced to gang rape, made to walk the
dirt streets naked for her brother’s crime of marrying a woman of higher caste.
My chaste breasts tremble with terror before the elders’ slanted eyes.
I embrace the girl fondled by a Catholic clergyman, forced to blow the Eucharist of his
pasty cock. My silence shipwrecks on drugs and alcohol suicide, while the priest
sucks the coddled thumbs of cover-up.
I embrace the woman raped to draw ethnic boundaries—in Bosnia to cleanse, to birth
Serbian babies, in Darfur to humiliate and control non-Arabs, in Columbia to
punish rival gangs.
I embrace the child forced to carry a child, lover and daughter to a father. He
sneaks into my bedroom at night and lays his body over my dreams, swearing
girls like it, should suckle his blessings.
Me, too, my womb bearing the savagery of hate and ignorance, my cunt ravaged by his
fist, filthy nails. The hot whisper, I asked for it. And the cheap political rhetoric
by white conservatives in red ties who do nothing but legislate my body.
As for those conservative zealots, reject their lies. Stand against misogynists who
harass, heckle, rape, shame—who break my family into believers and
I know. I believe us.
The poems above are from the 2019 collection Play me a Revolution
HOW TO LOSE THE SELF
Let it fester.
Blow at it softly as you would a wishing weed.
Watch each floret drift on humid air.
Do not collect them or try to press them back into a flower.
Whatever you do, do not breathe in.
I have heard if you let the spirit leave, something else will dwell there.
If this is true, don’t drown.
Open your eyes to the murk.
Don’t fight. Nor raise a hand as if to refuse a second helping.
At the beach, let them kick down your castle.
Let mice run crazy in the maze of your head.
Suppress rage like a ball submerged in water.
Launch the ball. You might break free.
From the collection Bare Hands, 2016
Lindsey Royce earned a Ph.D. in Creative Writing/Poetry and Literature from the University of Houston. Her poems have appeared in numerous American periodicals and anthologies, including the Aeolian Harp anthology; Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts (periodicals and anthologies); Poet Lore; and Washington Square Review, to name a few. Her first poetry collection, Bare Hands, was published by Turning Point in September of 2016, and her second collection, Play Me a Revolution, was published by Press 53 in September, 2019. Royce teaches writing and literature in Northwest Colorado.