"The After-Hell" and "Appetites"

The After-Hell

You ask me about my doubt:
So I drive into red rock until
The brown hits my horizon. Of course,
I am hungry and, of course, I stop
Where even future spring seems
False, but softening of the dirt
Seems as certain as rock. When
Tires slick to mud, beyond where
Mountains began to submerge
Into the recent past.  You assume
This is just a metaphor for silence.
So then I stop my drive, alone,
And trying to forward through:
A stillness slowly growing in
Gloaming. The Tumpetters
Thrash the potatoes fields,
Swan wings splayed awkward
And majestic against muddy snow
Instead of delicately swimming
In profile for a thousand water
Colors.  I am accustomed to early
Idaho winter:  enclosed divorce
After divorce, my mending ache.
Sutures itch and scars ask for stitching
Sinew. The impulse bled until bleeding
Smears. To say I have seen the country
Would imply I know it. The castings of
Bodies shifts the register: the plaster
Hardening in my memory. So all
I can notice in my side eye.   Birds, my
Fear, my own comfort--resisting
the firmness of fresh field stone.
Healing--if only not: white feathers
In the twine of grass and near-to-nightshade
Vines twined.  This is the field
Where men are stitched, planting
Spare parts in conversion with pebbles
And silt.  We empathize more with objects
Than with ourselves. What is making:
Rendering of decomposition, grass turned
Into its own heat. Later in my home: You tell
Me your black mane should be shed,
And I agree at the pregnant thought:
Esoteric pang, cold renewal.
Paper, rock, scissoring: this is what
I get. Enclosed bodies, few mothers
Want a man as yet another child
Whose tremble she sets to settle.
I am not joining the Caravana de la
Muerte or Sendero Luminoso, another
White man picking up arms in someone
Else’s history. Although these gringo
Hands have left mezcal and marigolds
For Santa Muerte. Better safe
than sorry. A swan in the desert--
I find not only you allusive, but me.




Trying to light a wet cigarette
with a faltering match, and I wonder
if my readers are also living life in vain:
Somersaulting through the day,
rusted locks on the weird-washed
doors, the red painting pilling
and bubbling, the shapes of shadows
condensing in the nervous curdle
turning the stomach in the afterglow
of a civil twilight, the plastic days
molded into explicable appetites
bleeding through thin walls—
Formica echoing into the soft
plush of shag carpet as I come
in from the rain. Facts trickle
into memory like ice dripping
over a sugared spoon, seeming
to melt the walls of recollection
like the clouding of absinthe.
The evening drifts like smoke
pipe smoke into the clear
blue sky. I have scabbed over
this early spring mellow, flaking into
flurries of snow, iced by
the shedding of my images –
history not painted onto retinas,
but lingering like syllables
sliding into a frosted glass.
I could write down the skeletal
icons so the bones could form
mantras to keep the past calcified.
Should the poet stand in the
miasma of dead leaves’ slurry
in the evening wind, inspired
like ghosts one could pretend
to heal with offered prayers
and masterpieces of vanity—
but the cigarette flames
smolders in the brief chill.



C. Derick Varn

C Derick Varn is a poet, podcaster, and teacher. He served as assistant editor for Arts and Letters: A Journal of Contemporary Arts, managing editor for the defunct Milkweed Review, founding editor for Former People, and was a reader for Zero Books. He won the Frankeye Davis Mayes/Academy of American Poets Prize in 2003. He is the author of the collections Apocalyptics (Unlikely Books, 2018), and Liberation, and all the other bright etcetera (Mysterioso Books, 2022). He currently lives in Utah but spent most of the last decade outside of the US. He hosts the politics, history, and culture podcast, Varn Vlog. Derick recommends the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Doctors without Borders.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, June 29, 2023 - 20:20