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Jason Labbe

Daguerreotypes of Jackie

 

 

What’s the difference between a confederate flag

and a broken window? Bring a thermos of coffee and we’ll walk

the battlefield. What new amalgam of dusk light, eyeshine,

and dismemberment can be captured in a glass plate

negative, how long must we stage the landscape

before we can know in the present moment what to salvage

as artifact? The answer to a handful of riddles:

artifacts have no present moment. I know of no society

which values a scar across the abdomen more than money,

but I have dreamed a greenhouse of repurposed plates

from which I watch your form in the bloody grass emerge.

Marching drums approach. We hum nothing of retreat.

 

            *

 

What’s the difference between a quest and a journey?

If the gate to the field is locked

                                    and we jump it, if the humidity

gets inside us before midnight, then show me the stone

I’ll threaten to throw through the visitor center window.

The stone is a buzzing phone in your jacket pocket.

Say don’t. Say my name, Virginia. Call me

Dead Eye—even if I could stop myself I wouldn’t.

In the middle of all this galloping, centuries of it,

spread our blanket. In the echo of hooves, only the soil

and the ghost of us. Animal body,

                        moth breath, your hand is freezing.

 

            *

 

Which answer leads to fewer questions about the origin?—

of my leaving, of our wanting, or whether your/my hand

is ever warm enough. I was born in a northern valley

 

where any crumbling brass mill not yet demolished

nobody dreams. We ask about history and nightfall

to hear a familiar phrase come down the tracks

 

in the breaking hour. Blood in the grass dries outside

the hour, outside the battle of its cause, but not outside

the range of your voice calling as a coal train beyond

 

the battlefield. With your thumb, retrace the Mason Dixon,

my surgical scar. Ask where I learned to swear like that.

Let me pretend you don’t know. The hour is breaking.

 

            *

 

What’s the difference between a secret and a mystery?

Over my valley, five states north, a V of geese points

toward a fieldstone wall, the distinction between backwards

and reversal. Because brightness is a symptom

of certain absence, I borrowed this explanation of solstice

from iodine fumes and a lateral sense of this field, diminishing

memory of my light-filled room. Who could stand

sitting so still so long, in midday sun, in her best dress.

To arrive in Virginia in terribly fragile condition.

We never. We drag a stick along the perimeter, we bask

in nightfall—this waking dusk made of grass

made of blood. Once the light knows you I won’t.

 

            *

 

What is the difference between “black” and the “dark?”

Mason Dixon, vague distinction. Will you forgive me

 

if I mistake the absence of light

for the absence of color? Everything was a gross yellow

 

until I broke the floodlight with your flip phone.

I can throw a fit and still nail my target.

 

My heart is a thermal collector is a sick joke

and you know I don’t want to hear you fake

 

knowledge of the supposed science of heartbreak.

If physical matter is infinitely subdividable, then

 

a tiny amount of light enters each point of contact.

Hold the warm hand that I love to my throat.

            *

 

Why did the Union soldier cross the road?

                                                If I interrupt your anecdote

about some long-ago boy’s finger in your mouth

to piss behind a tree, will I lose you, would you even take me

back from the shroud of night sounds and shadow.

Overhead a jet crescendos then decrescendos

and there are no crickets for a minute.

                                   

                                    Talk me back, then hold my breath

for another twelve seconds so our faces assume

a level of detail that, like the wings tattooed across my chest,

can’t be known in morning light. We relive

                        where the Blue Ridge Mountains begin.

 

            *

 

What’s the distance between a question and its answer?

Spell of cloud cover—moon gone for a minute prolongs exposure

time and lengthens the expanse between my valley of cinderblocks and cigarettes

 

and your Idaho of I don’t know. I have drawn a map

of my vulgarity. Trace the valley with an icy finger, walk

across my back. The hour breaks like a rib. How do we separate

 

without injury, how do I leave us

without blood in the grass getting in your hair. Must I

remind you that none of this is fair or easy—a felled tree

 

lies at the edge of the battlefield until it becomes a raccoon

and an exploding planet. Unrequited we shall orbit

the raccoon from a tropical planet beyond the exploding planet.

 

            *

 

How many one-legged ghosts does it take to defeat terrorism?

Asking me to tell you the battlefield’s history, about

dawn, is asking me to say

                                    Jackie. Lead me across the breaking hour

            as though we could even think of sleeping

            without the sound of birds.

            Why should we

when we can go so much lower with everything else peeking up.

Saying each other’s names breaks the minutes

before sunrise, before sleep. I cannot silence these questions.

How do I release myself from the valley of bleeding knuckles

or hold your breath for another twelve seconds.

 

 

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