James Croal Jackson (he/him/his) is a Filipino-American poet. He has a chapbook, The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights Press, 2017), and poems published in Sampsonia Way, Perhappened and Capsule Stories, among others. He edits The Mantle Poetry and works in film production in Pittsburgh, PA.
DESCENDANT OF THE BIG BANG
Self-absorption has turned me
into a selfish alien. On Earth,
we live in isolation
waiting for the cosmic dawn
to return in a brilliant explosion
that would rock this rock like
a great song
performing on its uppermost
stage, all of my being
expanding like a flower
until the whole universe
like a Great Eyeball.
Our role will be to find
connection — a ring
of stars passing rings
of fire, each a small
cluster of blue petals.
When I tell you of my existential crisis in the shower,
of being frozen in the rain of hot water and steam,
afraid of being alive inside a universe that perhaps has
only a limited number of consciousnesses to hand out
like a bowl of Halloween candy in the dim porch light
(don’t knock, just take) — why was I born with human
privilege? I could have been a beetle hiding from
soldiers in a country bleating with siren and flame.
Why this panic as I soap myself inside the pleasures
of plumbing? You tell me you don’t know if I exist,
and it’s funny a figment of your imagination would
be sowing doubt upon your own living. I tell you it’s
funny a figment of my imagination says the same, which
you say sounds like something an illusion would say.
We drink Lagunitas in a beam of window sunlight. One
of us will live forever in the simulation of our sandbox,
the black cat floating on the wobbles of my knees, purring
softly into dark sweatpants discernible from nothing else.
You count seeds with me
and I am tired of countable things.
When I count them, they...
they... stay the same. All
in order like a motor
in my clockwork.
Yet I plant seeds
and you plant trees and
I pick flowers while you
pick flowers and I wonder who
becomes the failure.
I plant the same seeds
but you… you… grow
into something new.
There are petals or there aren’t.
We sprout from the same earth. I need
to water this something-patch-of-dirt.
If I do, I will feel. Something.
If able to shield the cat who lives
with me from loud and unexpected noises,
I will press him to my chest and carry him
over to the staircase before pushing
down the coffee grinder, cup my hands
to his ears once the vacuum starts
running (though a gentle act of palms
on his party-hat ears is already enough
to make him sprint in the opposite direction).
Kingsford has grown used to gunshots on
television, but I can do nothing for the
barrage of fireworks leading up to
Day, nor conspiracy theories
which run rampant in the sky
(because what better a home
for fake facts than fireworks —
impossibly deafening bursts of light
in the night). Recently, I have been
joking that I can talk to him one-
on-one in a shared animal language,
and he looks to the wall to relay
the story of some spider who skulked
across chipped paint in the morning
hours, above where I slept,
deep in a dream louder
than any external noise —
enough to quell the sort
of revelation that makes
me believe our futures
are fucked. I wake up
refreshed enough to wait
for the day’s new din
of whatever war’s
beating on our screens
and walls and
my heavying heart.
GAZE DOWN NOT EYES
skies are gray my mind
lives having dug through
refrigerator for the cookie
I thought Mark bicycled
more instead I went to
salami town I burnt
a hot dog yesterday
for backyard freedom
the weeds are cut
behind the wire
and we are paranoid
of visitors someone
knocked on our door
time turned to trickle
last week a snowstorm
somehow but I have not
witnessed any weather
in a while I avoid outside
and outside avoids
me we always have
had an awkward
wave as we both
put our heads down
then move quickly