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ZACHARY KLUCKMAN

Zachary Kluckman is an award-winning poet who has been recognized for performance, writing, and mentorship in poetry. With work appearing in print worldwide and numerous appearances nationwide, Kluckman is also a nationally ranked slam poet. His work has been featured online in multiple formats. He is the author of the poetry collections, The Animals in Our Flesh (Red Mountain Press, 2012), Some of It is Muscle (Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, 2013) and Rearview Funhouse (Eyewear Publishing, 2023). Find him on on Instagram @physicalpoet



IT TAKES PATIENCE TO LOVE A TRAUMA SURVIVOR

The first gentle touch; even this, like a dying rabbit’s tremor, folds me into plow shapes. Furrowing the sheets with my desperate hands. Escape

the shadow figures of memory who stand in rows like evergreen tendrils climbing the walls.

it’s not you, it’s me. It’s them.

How to explain the serpent intentions that bind me. How they topple the headstones, set fire to the rows

of grapes. Stain me with their effluence. Their milk

clear and wet upon my lips. Even this sustaining blood leaves my tongue dry. Be patient. Yours is the hand that unlocks the basement door, that lights

the spaces between the seatbacks and the dresser. Yours is the face in the window that signals escape. Yours, the lighthouse in the backyard where I keep

two eggs and a map of the sky to tempt myself into believing the stars can actually predict our movements. Can direct me across the loadbearing seas of sheets

into your arms. Help me conjure this sickle of night, this horizon of spun stars. Bend me into constellations. Name the birds that rise

from my throat. Till the earth with my bent back. The rain will recognize me then

as offering. As sacrifice. Your hands will catch holy fire. The fields

will blaze with the shape of us. It will be worth the time it took for us to arrive here.

The harvest at the end of a season of waiting.

The stars screaming with life.



SALTSHAKER


Your head is a room full of people we barely know.

I entertain them with my storm clouds and fireworks

While we feast in bakeries near the graveyard. Who doesn’t

want their croissants to smell of newly turned earth?

What kindness I have shown your tender ego. Frail kite

waiting for another wind to lift you, spiraling into heaven.

Pretending you are growing tall, I hunch my shoulders

so you can tell your friends how love made you

the girl who saved the urchin. The poor boy from the streets.

Who cut the roses and his toenails with the same scissors

in the effort to cultivate a more attractive yard.

You wouldn’t want the neighbors to see how he

dressed your ghost for bed each night. How he loved

you back to earth, every touch a séance. Don’t

tell you have forgotten how I washed you

when the windows exploded with cold

the night you crawled into my room looking for someone

to save. When a thrift store mirror etched with fool’s gold

fell, you stared at me as if naming the animals.

I performed my first impression of cumulonimbus dynamism.

I thundered for you. Painted the sky with water and hung

ties from every cloud. I dressed the weather for this party,

then you uninvited me. The introvert inside of me usually leaves

early anyway. But first, your favorite party trick. Pour a little

more salt in the wounds so they taste like you when I lick them.



SEISMIC


The spider crawls across my body while you sleep.

Her touch is lighter than yours. Lightning rattles the window

and I shudder with a random urge to push my tongue

against it like a loose tooth. The things we are soon

to lose ache like this. I remind myself I cannot

tie a string around your wrist and slam the door.

Your leaving will not bloody my mouth; this time.

The kids will not expect a dollar under their pillows. Unless

they do. I cannot empty my wallet and fold your absence

inside. So I fold myself into origami smallness. Tight

with potential. Touch me and I will jump across

the room. Like this spider. She is more afraid of you than

you are of her they tell me. Funny, the assumptions

we make based on bodies. As if gender implies strength.

Or fear. What color is lightning? Blood

we recognize but not the light that splits the sky.

Not the hand that parts the sheets. The hand that moves

against my spine, strangles my crotch. Tell me

again how a tree falls in the forest without a sound.

I can promise you this. There is a sound

the dying make. As small as rain, every inch

of the falling is a note on the tectonic scale.

Earthquakes produce an eerie music, not unlike

the ghosts watching from the corner. All

the music available to us in this world

and here we are again, listening for the door to slam.



MOUTH HARP


You smell like you met rain in a dark alley

and it soured your cologne. Kissed you with

its milk breath and left you allergic. Fourteen

hours of weeping later you meet a man

in your mirror and ask him his name.

It’s not uncommon to question yourself,

but you’re wearing the same shirt you wore

the day you met your wife. Hard not to

recognize the hope tornado forming under

your umbrella. I’ve seen this before.

Someone made you think it’s possible to love

popcorn without risking heart attack again.

Someone buttered you up with promises

like flower petals dripping from their sticky

fingers. I gotta hand it to you. Your ability

to believe in regular people makes you

seem almost superhuman. Almost mythical.

In school you took so many fists to the face

you returned your bruises for a nickel

per pound, your flesh felt priceless. Still

you did not find the value others saw in you.

But hope, yes. Love, yes. Believe

in spirits with thread counts like Egyptian linen.

Believe it is possible to touch something

that returns it to you, touch for touch.

The street performer on the corner

plays Stravinsky on the harmonica.

So maybe —


NOT HOW YOU IMAGINED IT


The wind crosses the boneyard, oil and rust

tickle your nose. The chickens lay eggs in hubcaps. Prying quarters from gumball machines someone forgot to empty, by now a memory. Your feet too big for catholic school. Faith like spiders under the nails. You itch with adolescence, race motorcycles in the rain. Anything to escape. Crawl inside of lovers with your fingers, scratching cobwebs from your palms.


Your body is learning. How the wind makes kite tails of your hair. Fills your nose with salt seas far from here. Your shirt billows with invisible winds. Draw lighthouses on your arms, burn candles on parchment and perfect your signature. Hard times seem simpler. Dark ages pressed between the pages of your books. Adventure. Love. The romance you imagine caught like torn linen in the trees.


You used your hands once to blacken the eyes of a boy who called you chicken. Youth remembered as junkyard. As charnel house. As ten-foot fences. Enter

adulthood as refugee. Life raft built with the bones you have broken. The teeth

lost in heater grates. The chickens screaming in the yard as the wolf settles its weight against their door. How the feed rattles from their bowls.


You dream of rust and ghosts with eyes

like headlights. Bury seeds from every tree

that blooms. A future full of hiding places planted,

wash your hands, the thin leather skin

becomes with time. Dye your hair a color

you remember from a dream of the sea.

Adjust your crown of flowers

as you settle in your chair. Somewhere

a woman you once loved

moves your photograph to a shoe box.


SUBLIME


Neighbors report they have seen a faceless doll in my window.

Wearing my eyes is a practiced artifice. I paint them on daily.


This dry erase expression mimicking birds in flight. My eyelashes

grow in rows like shark teeth. Of course I look surprised


to see you. I wake surprised at my own arrival daily.

I have heard there are some beasts who shift their appearance

when frightened. A spectrum of visible costumes making


an art of hiding. I once believed I had this chameleon

DNA, but it was just youth trying to make sense of fear. I do not


belong to some genus or species named with a Romantic

tongue. Am not a rare cryptid emerging from the brush

one sunny day surprised at the commotion I have caused.


Just a man, sopping wet with potential, as all good clay should

be. They tell me we are made in another’s image and I wonder


if they mean frightened. If they mean so unsure of creation

parts of them are given nightly to wandering naked down

the halls. Looking in the doorways as if unfamiliar


with the arrangement of rooms. If this is how their thoughts

bang against the walls also. A room full of butterflies in a cavernous


home. A domed roof giving the illusion of freedom

to the cage. The devil’s in the woodwork. Look closely, his fingerprints

are everywhere, in the random whorls and signets of lumber.


Once cut, aren’t we all eager to find our mothers? Don’t we

hurl ourselves at shadows, looking for comfort in whatever

shapes we can touch there in the dark? Sex and touch,


the emotional arbiters we turn to when the moon’s

autonomy leaves us cold. No, you are right not to


believe me. The truth is less simple. A man so familiar

with watching the ghosts erase themselves from mirrors

becomes a hopeless romantic. My faith in love


the same a boxer brings to his best fight. To prove

himself worthy of the attention his presence has drawn


from the audience, sometimes a man willingly bleeds.

Stains the floor with his endeavor. Someone should

inform the neighbors all of their homes are haunted.


Every room full of shadows. Every memory a poltergeist.







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