Poetry by Josh Kalscheur “I am no longer/able to tier my joy. I am no longer able /to imagine what to do with an empty plot /in America.


So I’m told to venture out to the rough
end of the city each industry partly
dead I put two and two together god
I was out of my element each way
possible this weirdo my pack and lanyard
pressed slacks I said to myself take today
as a chance to widen your scope I know
my privilege I know I have lots
of shots in me I know to follow all walks
of life I was told focus on a word cloud
PRECIPICE I didn’t want fear I don’t think
that’s who I am I had to remember
the lessons of acceptance set in me never
put your spot above others we’re schmucks
pressing following the way of god it was
so true here in the rough end of the city
I didn’t cross the street avoiding glass
bits bird shit bus stop and a burned
condemned brick town house I was so
proud of the work I captured I felt it
as ethereal a bandaged finger the sweat
of a mother and her family selling sweet
corn on the cob brisket lemonade I paid
in quarters and caught the father
holding his little girl gripping her little ribs
bug bites on his knees all red-ringed he had
a clean jawline triceps permanently flexed
and his shirt hugged his chest I swear
it was an honor to stand and capture
the sharpness of his lungs filling with air


In an open room of a clean theatre
two children concentrate on rolling
a thousand napkins with the right
crease. That is intimacy. I am no longer
able to tier my joy. I am no longer able
to imagine what to do with an empty plot
in America. Often, I pay a man to pay me
a visit. He sits in my car and tells me to go
home when it is time to go home.
I am proud of my borders. I am prouder
than maybe I should be. I am healthy
right now. I am happy with my shape.
I am growing trees on my property
to discourage run-off. I tend and watch
them and then I am not troubled.


It had been a long night of being affected and close
to gone I controlled myself for periods counting down
from ten but then I gave in and finished whatever
there was my hands full of rust from an anchor hanging
on the wall I had been touching much earlier it was
comforting the clean grit forming a crease under
my thumbs and everything I felt like touching
reddened oh the joy of being a child with colors
oh the blood on my hands I touched my face crossed
my forehead the forehead of the young man
who helped me get to my state he held still because
I said so I printed an anchor onto his cheek and drew
a rope down his neck what was left on him
was running and staining the collar the color dulling
blood-letting sweatlines by his buttons seams ordinary
decorum dead the young man started speaking
the anchor story he loved the images the faceless
captain dead of stroke the crew’s good long calm
shore shrinking to death the Michigan coast dying
down the storm under pressure its grandeur valor
unbelievable pre and post beading performing
fitting pinned back to states of perfect open


Our mantra: improving everything we can
and everything we have. Knowing we control
only so much. Knowing we have a beautiful few days
behind us and hoping to have others
behind us soon. The simple mantra: What is beautiful
is necessary and requires second thoughts.
What is beautiful is improved
with a generous viewer. The basics
of the shot: anonymous birds in a tree
on the shore that could be the shore
of an ocean. The basics: a well-lit parallelogram
of driftwood in the foreground,
an agate, a half-circle of white-tipped water.
A lift bridge halfway down. A kayak
manned by a woman. A Canada haze.
Our mantra: the well-crafted story is always
arranged naturally. It is honest
with the right intentions.
Its integrity is never questioned.
Another mantra: We are limited
if we can’t imagine the lake
as something else entirely. The ocean is there
for the taking. Our mantra: improving
everything we have within our godly limits.
To listen to what comes to us from the gut
in the end. We have what’s in front of us.
The good light that could be the beautiful
light near an ocean. The lake offering itself,
which is all it ever wanted.

Josh Kalscheur’s first collection of poetry, “Tidal”, won the 2013 Four Way Books Levis Prize and was published in Spring 2015. Individual poems have appeared in Slate, The Iowa Review, Boston Review and jubilat, among others. He was the Halls Emerging Artist Fellow at UW-Madison for the 2015-16 academic year.

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