Jason Irwin is the author of Watering the Dead (Pavement Saw Press, 2008) and the chapbooks Where You Are (Night Ballet Press, 2014) and Some Days It’s A Love Story (Slipstream Press, 2005). He has also had work published in Poetry East, Sycamore Review, Confrontation, and Poetry Ireland Review, among others, and is a Transcontinental Poetry Award-winner. Irwin grew up in Dunkirk, NY, and now lives in Pittsburgh, where he’ll be celebrating the launch of his most recent poetry collection (A Blister of Stars, Low Ghost Press) at East End Book Exchange on July 23rd.
We asked Irwin what he hopes readers take away from this most recent collection, which Low Ghost Press has very kindly allowed us to excerpt below!
Jason Irwin: “I hope the reader takes a way a feeling, or idea of survival, as well as the idea that the everyday, ordinary events in peoples’ lives are actually extraordinary; that there is beauty amid all the dung.”
My cousin asked the usual questions –
boys and marriage; were there any more toys
under the Christmas tree?
I asked When? And How?
I was thirteen. My cousin, twelve.
It said I would be forty-one.
The same age my mother was that Christmas.
Elvis was forty-two when he died. Jesus, thirty-three.
After that I waited, counting down the days
and weeks. The years.
Whenever we played war
I was always the soldier who got killed, the one who died
a heroic death. Sometimes
I lay on the couch with a towel over my face
and instructed my cousin to pretend it was my funeral.
It would be on a Tuesday.
Would it hurt? Would there be blood?
The night before that fated day I dream
I’m standing before the Oracle at Delphi;
that my cousin and I are trapped on a frozen lake
When the ice begins to crack, my cousin slides away
from me, trying to collect the walnuts that spill out
of the bag she is carrying.
“Don’t be obstinate!” she calls to the nuts
that lie there playing dead, looking like turds.
In the morning I watch the sun pass through the clouds.
After my third cup of coffee I pour another
and move to a chair near the window.
Outside a boy is standing in the street jumping up and down
on each crack in the pavement, fearless.
I was a zygote then,
a coin in my mother’s purse;
a fish swimming in the brine
of her sins. I was the tiny monster
growing inside her, always needing,
Then, swaddled in my disfigured armor,
I howled and squirmed. Priests
and soothsayers were summoned
with their incantations and blessings.
But the monster lived, consumed our lives,
and became something other –
a manifestation of our fears.
On rainy nights when the roof leaked,
when the bills piled up, nights I lay in the hospital
waiting for X-rays or surgery,
the monster’s shadow stained the walls.
Sometimes I imagined he was a warden locking the doors.
Sometimes he was the doctors, with their tiny knives
and mouse-black eyes. Sometimes I swear he was God.
December, a few weeks before Christmas,
and I’m in the hospital again.
Another round of doctors, nurses,
and interns with ballpoint pens and endless
questions. X-rays and scans; stiff sheets,
piss bottles, and little plastic cups
of ginger ale. Another week
out of school; another surgery.
But this time is different:
my club foot will be amputated.
The doctors assure me
I will be better off in the long run.
Yet I am sick and tired of hospitals,
of surgery, of checking my blood
pressure and temperature,
the beeping of IV machines.
Outside snowflakes fall like a million
Eucharists, and on the far wall Jesus hangs
on his cross like a kite. I lie awake
tracing the scars that crisscross my body
as shadows flood the room.
I imagine my blood draining, spilling out
in majestic rivulets of crimson.
In the morning they lay me on a table
and wheel me to a room cold
as chrome, where giant parrots,
dressed as doctors, perch –
their green wings shining
like knife blades
in the halogen radiance.
I die that day – vancomycin,
cardiac arrest – but wake
as if only seconds have passed,
my club foot still attached.
Everyone is gathered around
as if in vigil, eager for news
about that place their faith
assures them I have traveled to.
But there was no light at the end of the tunnel,
no seraphim or long-dead
relatives to deliver me
to the bosom of Abraham.
I was not Christ, risen in glory.
I was just one sick child,
among many sick children
tethered to this world.
A Blister of Stars is excerpted here by permission of Low Ghost Press.