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Mary Austin Speaker

Coward, Liar, Thief


The reporter has been waiting for this.

The aging astronaut appearing


beneath the overhang of a government building,

stepping into the sun as though he belonged there.


The reporter’s grip tightens around his microphone

as he moves it toward the astronaut’s sad face.


His look of surprise. Say it, the other grins.

There’s nothing up there at all. You’re a coward, a liar, and a thief.


The aging astronaut is wearing his starry night necktie

when he punches the reporter in the face.


The reporter has launched back into himself

and landed in the third grade, groundscrapes


on the heels of his palms, pain-thrill bounding

through his skull like a song. The astronaut’s shadow


lengthens in the gold, hot light,

til it’s longer than all the men in the world.




You Might Be the Last Light I See

for Brian Rawlins


The night between

Amarillo and Pueblo


was thick enough to drink

so we drank it walking beams


barely pulling God knew what

from the sands, cattle bristling


in their pens crowded as Christmas

trees, fattening, blank, all of them


soon to be surprised by the axe

or the air gun depending


on the technology darkening

the slaughterhouse—each of us


faces his death alone

and if we’re lucky


we know this soon enough

to fall down with each other


even if we know how dark

it’s going to be we never


know what shade

of day awaits us.

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