“Midnight Poems:” A Series by Justin Jannise

— 23:45:03 —

A QUARTER TO MIDNIGHT

Deep in Kentucky, behind
twelve percent of the world’s
chain links, past snipers’ sights
and paperwork bundled into
granite-lined, torch-resistant, blear impenetrability,
a vault of gold!

I bet it’s empty,
says my mother, channel-
surfing
extremely slowly.
She gives each niche-
driven network its due time to woo her —
a relic of a sense of
trust.

Soon enough, the History Channel
cuts to a scholar-turned-
Doomsday analyst
who says, effectively,
I bet it’s empty.
That he and I graduated from the same bastion of
higher learning
doesn’t help
my case.

It’s not empty. It can’t be,
I say, dousing my mother with a theory of a theory
I’ve been hearing
on the radio.
She believes me.
And then she flips the channel to a
pair of red-headed toddlers drinking chocolate
from a tree.

— 22:52:58 —

SEVEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT

House-sitting for a month
puts tires on my Toyota so I can
steer past the dog carcass drawing flies
like last night’s drunks
unleashed to the boulevard.
Pay to park. Swill a couple hand
grenades and why not spend
a night in jail, sleep it off?
I prefer a silver cage with four-wheel drive
and the airports and cities
it laces in tighter. Once off the ground
I’m timing my own high jump, waiting
to land. Slow-cam on the
jelly glob hanging dearly to its spoon.
Open wide. Here comes the
crack of thunder, the free-fall, the fruit
smack splattering over news channels
as the walls back politely away.
Pointless how some mid-air visions land safely
while others avoid carrying on.
I can take or leave
the coffers filling up with esteem
as long as I maintain a certain number of cars
circling the roundabout. Distraction yields
to the city’s self-indulgence overtaken,
as it were, by a need for peace. There is no
shopping for peace,
only standing in line as if for bread
expecting a somewhat sufficient portion.
Here comes the
bill for the black tie with cummerbund
that matches those of the cousins and high school bandmates
who, if the bride were found stuffed between
panels of sheetrock, no one would think
to question. Can I be bought so cheaply?
I owe a friend a visit.
I owe homage to the damp night air.
I fall victim to my own refunding
as a ball juggled poorly falls,
bounces, rolls uphill and stops
beneath a wing-tipped loafer.
Stiff pant-leg. Gold cufflinks. Watch.
How much lower can I lower myself?

I owe another stranger what he wants.

— 00:00:00 —

MIDNIGHT

Who wants to die
with corn in their teeth?
I’ll take the slice of pumpkin
but refuse to have it served
on a silver platter.
I have morals.
My neighbor the other day,
daubing her brush
into the small-scale ramp
of coral orange, pouting out
a wet-lip shimmer on
her front door trim—
I wanted to warn her
cars passing could see, well,
they could see her
granny panties
every time she bent over.
And me? I saw the copper Chevy
in the drive at 9 a.m.
I must have heard the engine
crank, the break
release and then? By ten
I was popping Munchkins and wincing
at the folded copper heap
being sledged from the ditch,
remembering the Pomeranian
my wheels pummeled under me,
bumpety-thump. It was
heavier-than-expected, a wet fur bag
of bones that clung to the road as I tried
not to see my headlights
reflected in its dead eyes.
Man, things
are lifeless bodies
before they turn
to carcasses and then to
something fuzzy
facing the corner.
I learned that.
Preparing for the worst makes
randomness unfold
like an I-told-you-so.
That, I need to hear again.

Justin Jannise studied poetry at Yale and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His work appears in the Yale Review, North American Review, and Zocalo Public Square. He lives in Houston, where he is a Ph.D. candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston.

The image used for this piece is a test pattern used in the 1950’s and 60’s when television networks would “sign off” at midnight. The test patterns were later adorned with advertising for specific networks, and later still, replaced with video sign-off’s that included prayers, tours of network facilities, and perhaps most memorably, recordings of “America the Beautiful.” More information here.

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