Category: Poems

Peter Schireson

Trigger Warning

Trigger Warnings

I believed I knew the contents 

of the firing chamber, knew 

the sear surface and hammer materials,

until one day at the zoo,

as I leaned on a railing watching the gibbons balletic,

I saw in the acrylic panel enclosing the cage

my own reflection, an unarticulated skeleton in a specimen jar.

As snow fell in late afternoon,

and with regard to the color crimson,

I considered how snow and crimson sometimes left me distressed by the sound 

of my own shattery breath,

how hearing

a guilty verdict on the radio while driving

to my parent’s house made me feel

like slapping myself.

I really can’t say

if my index finger is required

to actuate a firing sequence,

or my thumb to activate the cocking machinery,

but while swimming laps at the Y,

the pale skin of the old man in the next lane wearing a blue bathing cap 

provoked an encounter with solitude, 

bringing tears that pooled in my goggles.

On a couch

at the end of the hospital corridor,

watching the night custodian buff the linoleum

aroused a trumpeting angel beast. 

Another evening,

as I urinated in the bathroom of my favorite bar

while they were playing “Rap God,” which I love,

I was consumed by loneliness, and then, later, strange purification.

I don’t know anything

about the safety or logic 

of the trigger mechanism,

nor can I say with any certainty

how easy or difficult to release 

the hammer.

A Chinese Fan and the Wind

A Chinese Fan and the Wind

We commandeered a boat, 

then we jumped into the sea and swam 

with no end to the water, sank

the boat and flew with no end 

to the air.

We were swimming, water, flying,

and air. But we weren’t fishes or birds.

We found a place without

a sea, or air, or boats. Or anything

else. A place that just had us.

And wood. We built a fire 

with the wood and filmed it while

it turned to ash and watched to see

if you or I could tell exactly 

when it turned.

Previously, I was wood.

This time you were wood

and I was ash.

We climbed a mountain

where it was always windy, 

made a Chinese fan and fanned 

ourselves in the wind so the wind 

could see we were swimming, water, flying, 

and air, you the wood and the bird, 

and me the fish and the ash.

I was the Chinese fan

and you were the wind.



When I met you, I was a house-sitter 

in my own body, eating pastries and 

dozing off drunk in the shower.

When we talked, words leaped out of my mouth 

like animals released into the wild. You unwrapped 

your life like a talisman, spoke 

about years and ways you’d ached 

in a postcard-ready small town. Time wobbled 

on rubbery legs and I was lost in the roominess 

of your voice. Later, we put in earplugs 

and lay on the bed side by side, barely touching. 

We construed each others’ muffled sounds-as sparks

from a saw, as rhizomes drowned in muddy water-

and dreamed them into notes overnight,

shaping them to a melody we hummed 

to ourselves in the morning. 



I saw Mick Jagger once
with his girlfriend at a café two tables away
from where my mother and I were eating lunch.
“Mick Jagger!” I blurted under my breath,
as if I’d just arrived from the sea floor.
My mother was eating a wedge of cantaloupe
in her manner—
first, the silver knife under the flesh,
but leaving the severed pieces to rest
in place on the rind, then
a series of precise vertical cuts,
rhombus chunks of melon
a small clutch of passengers
shoulder to shoulder in the boat of rind.
I told my mother I’d secretly taken a cellphone picture
of Mick and his girlfriend
and felt bad about being so selfish.
Not selfish on purpose, mother said,
but I replied, Yes, on purpose.
But not really meaning to be selfish, she said,
but me saying, Yes, I was,
until she said, We are not selfish, dear.

Sword of Glass

Sword of Glass

It was my father’s father
who at last came to dinner from far away,
gulped a whiskey, grinned, and said When I have a whiskey,
 I feel like I’m a new man & then the new man wants one, too
my father pouring another & the new, new man
also wanting a whiskey

who tucked me in after dinner whispering,
You must go right to sleep, because if you don’t,
when sleep does come, night will expand
& become a great mass, mold will grow on you,
& in the morning, the sunlight will cut you
like a sword of glass, & you’ll never again
be able to jump up and down.
& he clicked off the light

who for my 13th birthday at his apartment
set out a platter of prunes smoked meats pickled herring
horseradish jam poppy seed rye from which I assembled
a smoked meat sandwich & as I bit growled,
If you don’t like pickled herring, you should tell me
& next time I won’t order it. You don’t know what it means
to be a Jew. You imagine a heaven, sky that shines like a fish,
& the sound of the surface rasp of the sea, but this
is a sorrowful world of fat-free cheese, & recumbent bicycles,
of Christian Science & lonely reflections, of old plow horses—
sullen, worn & indifferent to the whip. The meadows shun those horses!
Everything stings! Everyone cries! & he threw the platter onto the floor—
prunes, jam, meat, all of it

who dressed like a Turkish pimp for Marsh & Jennifer’s wedding,
silk tie painted with women’s faces & palm trees, shouting
when Marsh stomped the glass, Pop goes the hymen!
& washed down two shrimp cocktails with bourbon commanding,
Let us all feast on pie! Rhubarb. Mince. Spanakopita.
waving the menu, calling the waiter, Where is the King of Pie?
smacking a fist on the table, Bring us kingly pie!
Pie for the women in evening gowns, pie for the bride & groom

who, leaning over, took my hand, & speaking softly
& only to me, said, Your father told you I fled the East
to avoid conscription, but I fled because I killed a man
who called me Brudny Żyd—a Dirty Jew.
I was fifteen. You can trust the forest,
but people are chiselers & wolves. Fuck them.

who, when I entered his hospital room,
asked the rest of the family to leave, saying
Sit with me. I can do nothing else.
Skin rashen from whisky & sugar, he grasped my arm,
The River Pishon used to wind like a snake through the larch & pine.
You’ve never seen the boreal forests & soon they’ll be gone.
If I were young I’d disregard the speakable world
& only study the sinuosities of women
& he looked out the window, whispering
more to himself than me,
Life is sunlight held together by blood,
the words drafting like seagulls through motionless air.

And I walked out to the exhausting allure of another day,
to grass the height of the moon, to other, older family faces
appearing at random on petals, bridges, boulders.

In Pleiades, 2015

From Sword of Glass

Flight Plan

Flight Plan

Let’s speak to each other

in the language of paper airplanes,

bend our edges in to meet

and fold the quiet into shapes,

mold our wings according

to the soft geometry of handmade things.

Let’s use our time aloft to catch our breath

and clear the air before we yaw,

pamper back the creases in our rumpled craft

and fly some more.

Einstein at the Sink

Einstein at the Sink

— Let us imagine a raven flying through the air . . .
~Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and General Theory

Einstein stands at the sink,
Trims his moustache, imagining
The mirror is a window in a traincar.
He snips the tip of a moustache hair
And watches it drop like a stone
From the window of the moving train
Onto the embankment.
He imagines the mirror the London sky,
The hair on his head a cloud hovering
Over Trafalgar Square, calculates
The height of the cloud, the light,
The time required to reach it.
His eyes, ravens, fly from the bathroom
And down the hall. Einstein racing after,
Knocks over a lamp.

In Blue Earth Review, 2014