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John T. Leonard

Cold Black Coffee

The artist lights a match and walks alone down a dirt road in Kentucky.

He flicks burnt splinters of wood at the invisible ghost of a dead lover.

Deeply offended, she reveals herself as a mating swarm of biting midges,

but another match turns her into the rusty hinged screams of jealous grackles.

The artist is lured onward. He needs to hold that lust for murder in his heart,

though he may never act on it…reputation, decorum, and what have you.

To his right there is a forest. To his left, a field. He commands both.

Each is filled with rotting wheelbarrows, graveyards of toil and labor.

For three hundred years they have slowly been disintegrating, right

where they were abandoned by the dutiful wives of dead farmers

in holy ritual, filled with black water and the sun-bleached bones

of family dogs. Sacrifice and tradition.

The artist screams. The black water pulses with the moans of mosquito larvae.

The artist rakes a comb through his greased hair. He pulls a beardtongue petal

from thin air and, like the devil of a dead religion, turns it into a fresh book of matches.

The dirt road is absorbed into the soles of his leather boots. He is lifted into the sky

by the tornadic stench of his own thoughts. He is transported to an empty white vastness.

He closes his eyes and wills the crossroads of a new dirt road into existence.

An abandoned diner falls from the peach pit sky and lands right in front of him.

His coffee will always be cold and burnt and with one dead fly in it.

This is the only sin the world will ever make him pay for.

Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar

A little ditty blares from the cobwebbed speakers mounted in every corner.

Bottomless-ranch-dressing-music, reverberating endlessly off the low, cheap

ceiling panels which shield our gaze from the innards of such an establishment:

silver apparatus of industrial ventilation, filaments wrapped in candy colored

rubber tubing, the classic treasure trail of pipes sprinkled with ancient mouse turds.

This is the architecture of not even trying. I’ve read somewhere that the cynics secretly

love it. We’re paying for precisely this wall-mounted-banjo-atmosphere because it makes us

feel less guilty about what our parents did to the actual atmosphere. We’re paying for their sins with our ripped inner cheeks, mouths shredded by the throwing star tortilla chips and south western egg rolls. We’re paying with our sexless grunts and indigestion, with our blood sugars exploding like Pop Rocks or the Fourth of July or whatever else is Americana enough for this grandstand moment in time. And the salt from a fourth silver Patron margarita coats my tongue

as an homage to havoc, the wrinkles on my forehead forming a shape that can be described

only as “insects dreaming”. There’s even a moment during my visit where I almost forget

that we all have baseball bats hovering over our heads for some strange reason. I shouldn’t be reminded of the film series Saw when I come here, but the comparison stains my teeth like a half pint of barbecue sauce, the way each film, like each line in this poem, keeps getting worse, and more exposed for its fraudulent, bottom shelf creativity. Those ceiling pipes again,

with their thick layer of dust, only disturbed by the small paws of rodents.

I could see you for what you are, but I’d have to see myself.

Storm Drain, Moonlit


All I ever wanted to do was go to wine tasting parties

with the rich friends I made in New England—

Trust fund snobs who liked to sneak into movies.

But here I am, less centered than Kansas,

just Hoosier-ing around at a barbeque.

There’s a beer bottle rolling across the trimmed lawn.

Alexandria is cackling over the music.

Someone brought Chinese lanterns,

just for fun!

There goes another bottle!

We’re just glad to be alive. And to be alive, together,

drinking vodka with Sweet’N Low,

under our almost sun,

in our almost state.

To be alive. Together.


I love you. I love you,

but I’m turning to the Beefeater again

and my 10 p.m. verses.

(Is it funny that I stole that line?)

What a poet!

Soon, I’ll be thinking of a bourbon eyed girl,

bucolic and tan—sand from that lake beach

dressing her legs.

I’ll be thinking of the walk we took in the flush part of Connecticut ,

in my rented shoes and the jacket I saved up all Spring to also rent.

I’ll be thinking of how we stole her father’s Sea Ray,

how we treated it like a lake skimmer…

All those feelings, all that summer air

which could not please.

The world breaks everyone,

and if it doesn’t break them,

it kills them instead.

The rhythm of clanking chains

I don’t think Hemingway ever vacationed in Westport.

I’m not sure I could walk those streets again.


Back at the barbeque, there’s the Schnauzer lady from a few blocks over,

walking past us with her late-night pack of Schnauzers,

strolling along and alone in her big, black, fur coat.

She’s even dressed like a Schnauzer!

She’s our only celebrity…

other than the billboard dentists and insurance queens.

I’m telling everyone a story about the time when, only ten years old,

I tried to feed an apple to a horse, and she bit me!

But now Alexandria is bawling because her favorite song ended.

The lawn is littered with bottles and I’ve burnt everything.

(even the salad)


some of us smoke a little bammer and watch the late-summer night bloom

into nothing more than ennui and a faraway chorus of mute-deaf children.


One day you’ll be standing in the last Kmart on earth. The floors

will still be sticky, but why should anyone bother mopping?

You’ll spring an extra tooth and pay an extra dollar

just to hear the cicada fog of a Rust Belt lullaby.

The roof of the old porno shop downtown will have caved in.

Crickets will chirp while you light another cigarette

on the front left burner of your tenement stove.

You don’t believe in it, and you aren’t going to do

anything to make it happen.


John T. Leonard is a writer, educator, and poetry editor for Twyckenham Notes and The Glacier. John Leonard/574-612-0465/ Bio- John T. Leonard's previous works have appeared in Chiron Review, December Magazine, North Dakota Review, Ethel Zine, Louisiana Literature, Hole in the Head Review, Jelly Bucket, Mud Season Review, Nimrod International Journal, The Indianapolis Review, Genre: Urban Arts, and Trailer Park Quarterly among others. He lives in Warsaw, Indiana with his wife, two cats, and two dogs. You can follow him on Twitter at @jotyleon and @TwyckenhamNotes.


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