February 5, 2017

Four Poems by James R. Whitley

Four Poems by James R. Whitley

Thirteen Ways to Deny an Ending

  1. Position your body between the door and his body, then turn to stone.
  2. Spread your tears like thin ice beneath her feet, and then turn to glass.
  3. Lecture like a doomsday astronomer—warn against the Earth without the sun, the tides without the moon…
  4. Counter with a mathematical argument—perhaps something about the number 2 and natural balance, or the number 1 being too odd.
  5. Make up an excuse to leave the theater before the final act—if a curtain falls and you are not there to see it, then…
  6. Rub raw onion (or any handy irritant) in your eyes, and renew your faith in chemistry.
  7. Imagine that you are merely playing tennis and redefine terms like match, break, love
  8. Rewrite history—especially the darker periods—and try to sell the revision as best you can.
  9. Spin a yarn about a more palatable future—borrow tropes from works of fantasy or mythology if that helps.
  10. Shut your eyes tightly as if the light in the room is suddenly too bright.
  11. Open your eyes wide and pretend you suddenly cannot see—feel free to proclaim sudden deafness too if that seems useful.
  12. Even if you don’t believe, pray.
  13. In front of a large mirror, attempt strategies 1 through 12 again until…


Here, Finally, a Plausible Theory

In the unblocked spillway of the heart,
there is always an epic in the making.

Beyond the tightest lips,
there is a story dissolving under the tongue.

Even if secretly, everyone yearns
for a day of wine and roses,
a balmy night or two in Tunisia.

If you parry and lunge,
then I will repulse and thrust.

A game that yields no winner
is no longer a game.

Regret is a threat lurking in the reliquary,
an imperfect stitch in the heart’s selvage.

Though sometimes hard and cold,
the world is more than just slate, schist and shale.

Dusk is truly the time for lovers
for see how they venture forth now,
see how the sky coaxes them out
all robed in claret, crimson, oxblood, vermilion.


Inside the Story of It
(NOTE: This is a found poem composed entirely of words appearing in the first chapter of Erich Segal’s bestseller Love Story.)

Curious how the notion of it,
like a glance or an especially tough
course you have to run, can
shift suddenly.

It is a dumb habit or a great honor, is the big money shot, is a brief
history of endemic disease, is a kind of luck or an ability to,
is vanity or is not, is behind you or is not, is a brilliant musical
score, is a closed library with the book you need in it, is that one
special book, is the pretty snow falling on the trail we walked, is
the beautiful silence falling with it….

And how, say, a game played—
however badly,
however distressing the ultimate defeat—
was an option to win something.

And what that can mean.
And what it can’t.

…is an eleventh hour victory, is a paradox: a profanity and a great reverence for, is that last brownie, is a small taste of rich ice cream,
is the question I asked you, is what happened just after you replied,
is a smart girl with pride in her handbag, is her smart handbag,
is the poor loser who fortunately discovered a million…

And so,
pretending not to like the flagrant
habit my eyes had of staring,
she ordered a coffee and,
asked my name.

A conversation ensued.

…is Christ simply smiling at you, is a helluva sandwich or is
the something crucial in the middle of the sandwich, is the senior poet shrewdly working with structure, is her beautiful handwriting,
is Bach and the Beatles, is part kind cleric and part loathed lawyer,
is a waning music, is a waning…

And yes,
I know you want me to explain why,
to pause and then come back to your question
with something better.

But I think there is a limit to
what we can know about it
and what we need to.

Or maybe there isn’t.



Pure scent. Thinned scent. Tragic scent.

Absolution or some clear evidence of it.

And, despite the undeniable diminution,
a reason yet to believe.

And in this broken bottle full of holier moments:

a subtler blue halation,

the lingering notes of an ardent spring drama,

the claws of that gossamer past
still hooked in this reticent air.

* * *

James R. Whitley’s poetry has been published in over a hundred literary publications including Barrelhouse, Gargoyle, Mississippi Review, River City, African American Review, and Poetry Salzburg. His first full-length poetry collection, IMMERSION, won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. His second, THIS IS THE RED DOOR, won both the Ironweed Press Poetry Prize and the 2010 Massachusetts Book Award for Poetry. His third, THE GODDESS OF GOODBYE, was published in 2009 by WordTech Communications. Whitley is also the author of two poetry chapbooks—PIETA and THE GOLDEN WEB. His poetry can be read on various poetry websites and his collections can be purchased on his Amazon page.

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1 comment
  • Holly Guran says:

    Dear James Whitley
    So glad to find your work here in this excellent journal. I wanted to be in touch about inviting you to read at Rozzie Reads Poetry. We have readings about once a month with two features and an open microphone. The reading takes place at Roslindale House, 120 Poplar Street in Roslindale. I heard you read at Chapter and Verse and have enjoyed This Is the Red Door.
    Best wishes,
    Holly Guran
    for Rozzie Reads Poetry Committee

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