I Knew You Before You Were

Rusty chains coiled in the cardboard box
           I carry to the dumpster & all I am

Thinking is my face is falling off & is yours
           Under it & or is someone’s I don’t

Even know—further down, a stranger,
           A deadman, a saint, or just a sprawl

Of gravel & then I’m thinking this other thing—
           There’s a snake in this box, blacktailed

& then more: there’s a bottomless immensity
           Beneath my feet & what a sacrifice

It is each day just to get by, this alchemy,
           This fevered life: illness & love,

Lockjaw & slow motion kidnappings—it is what
           It always is—chronic dying, shivering with

Unbelievable joy & not knowing a damn thing
           About anything as lightning

Jigsaws the horizon. At the garbage pile, I pause—
           Take a deep breath & sit on the curb.

Like they’re being sucked into the sky,
           The trees’ limbs lift. No cars on

The street—so quiet. So hushed I can
           Hardly breathe. Thousands of lives

Are piled into all this dirt we walk
           On & I’m waiting, saving it all for you.

Copyright © 2014 Alex Lemon. “I Knew You Before You Were” originally appeared in The Wish Book (Milkweed Editions, 2014). Reprinted with permission of the author.