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Janine Joseph

Janine Joseph is the author of Driving Without a License (Alice James Books, 2016), winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Oklahoma State University and lives in Stillwater.

By This Poet

2

Circuitry

I.

The rung wide
           receiver forgets why

he set his keys on the football field.
           Whose are they? he asks—a ringing

in his ear—while clenching
           the green. As if on the edge

of a pool, he tilts his head to drain
           water out of his canal.

It was like that, all the time,
           after. How many fingers?

he was asked, and not to tell
           a lie—it would mean his career.

It would mean recognizing you
           without your jacket when you

walked out of the room. It would mean
           you could say, Stay here

with me, and in his eyes
           could watch him come back.


II.

I spiral the parking lot, singing,
           It’s alright, I’m alright,

while I count the pole lights back
           to my car. I practice red, table, lamp

with a neuropsychologist and now
           I can tell you about how my brain

blew in the acceleration. I was in
           a locked position—the details

unbearably clear in the replay and, still,
           no one else heard me swallow

the impact. Bend at your hips
           from your two-point stance and, there,

the muffler is a finger wagging
           one one one inches from the ground.

The tire-less car rests on its crutch
           of blocks, the windows a crunch

of glass. Are you feeling the rush now
           as you look to me, your brain still

in your head—is it still in your head?
           Can you point for me where

it happens in the connection, where
           on the line the old equipment

resets itself and loops?
           Is what you say the truth?

The Persistence of Symptoms

During the short sale I moved my desk toward Charlie’s 
so that every day, when we came back from work,

he could say, It’s not even your house, to my face 

when I’d fret, I can’t lose another thing. 

Most of what I owned was slopped in return boxes 
from other states and when I visited home 

I complained about how I ever slept on that twin, 

how my father couldn’t even dust the Venetian blinds 

once in a while. It was the sixth or seventh house 
I’d lived in, and not even one I’d say I grew up in

—I’d say the neighbors maybe found us eccentric 

with the trellis heavied by wind chimes and roots invading 

the porch’s foundation—so he was right 
to put the noise cancelling headphones I gave him 

back on while I agitated the sink. But it was our house 

for a while, the lawn tended, the gnomes in a collection,

and before I used it as storage, I worried in it 
about changing the motion sensors and whether 

the leaky faucet was drowning the persimmon tree 

my late grandmother and late beagle loved. 

Charlie replied always with concern 
about my Googling old addresses again. 

No one hated sentimentality more than I, 

but when I flew back to consolidate my boxes, 

I didn’t know where to start. 
Crayons, a below-zero sleeping bag, so many albums 

of things I couldn’t place. My things and what were 

not my things. I circled trash bags around me 

in the garage and tuned the radio in tears. 
Just like that, it was for weeks. Inspecting frames, 

books, dishes—separating what was not broken from 

what was, dumping when I knew the difference.