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Michael Montlack

It’s Not the Job of the Clairvoyant


To lead us through the catacomb,

to be a sliver of light in the hollow.

It’s no one’s job to show us what

we have made in life. Our crops

speak for themselves. The culprits

who poisoned the soil disguised

in costumes of our own making.

Doesn’t the Clairvoyant remind us

we are more than the sprockets,

we are the machine. We are able

to count but choose blowflies

over blessings. You are naked,

the Clairvoyant says. Not my job

to dress you. We ask if the others

are just as scared and scarred.

We ask for a thicker sliver of light.

Not my job! We reach for a hand

in the dark, so sure the blowflies

can smell our expiration dates—

feeling entitled to understand

our purpose. Dreading there’s none.



Can You Spare a Dime


I miss phone booths, the irony of seeking

privacy in public in a transparent box.

A conversation seemed more dramatic

there. A dire performance for passersby.

Who even talks on the phone anymore?

When I call, rather than text, friends,

some can’t hide their annoyance: Um—

why are you calling me? I want to say

my voice offers more nuance than emojis.

I miss the graffiti in phone booths too.

The FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL . . . etchings.

Those declarations that [INSERT NAME]

WUZ HERE. It was so existential. Simple.

Animal. How we marked our territory.

But smart phones leave a live loud trail,

erasing any chance for a secret getaway.

And forget about pranking so-and-so

about that good time. Caller ID’s sure

to rat on you. I miss making prank calls—

junior high exercises in method acting.

Adopting personas, doing improv really.

How it taught us to keep a straight face.

Maybe emojis will make faces obsolete

like phone booths. Replace words even.

Is this the evolution of communication?

It feels dire, and I keep thinking about

well . . . phone booths. Wondering if

without them, it’s harder for Clark Kent

to transform into Superman. How do you

say Who will save us now in emoji?



My Friend Stephanie Asked When I Knew I Was a Writer


And I was as surprised as she was when I said,

Before I learned to write. I was four maybe.

On the backyard swing set in a rush of euphoria

as I competed with my twin sister to see who

could go higher, our bare feet kicking at the sky,

the rusty swings creaking in unison. I knew

somehow I would remember this, this moment

she likely would not. Why? And if she did,

it would be different, framed differently,

or unframed. Even then I was in the habit

of seeing a moment like a diorama or

movie still, pausing to collect a smell, words

a stranger uttered, how a shadow crawled

along a cinderblock wall—a sort of click

in my head and there it was: a blur of joy,

my sister in the bleachy glare, a glimpse

of my mother in the kitchen window, head

down as she sliced onions, the crab apples

rotting in the grass below us, our Irish Setter

a spill of orange on the gray concrete patio.

All loaded with meaning I could not grasp

but managed to carry in an invisible backpack

where I kept the fear that I would never learn

to read, terrified whenever I dared to lift

the open book or magazine my mother left

on a couch or nightstand—all those letters

a secret code, probably making fun of me:

the strange boy who saw stories everywhere

but may never learn to write. Yet even that

I knew would one day be a story worth telling.



“The Inside Scoop on Apollo 10’s Infamous Floating Turd”


            Popular Science


None of those astronauts ever fessed up to it.

I can neither claim it nor disclaim it, one said.

As if afraid to admit Shit Happens even in space.


As if claiming a bowel movement might tarnish

their new halo, stealing some of its silvery grace—

that shard of shit a blatant symptom of humanity.


NASA transcripts preserved all the repudiations,

but what, if I may, has become of the rogue turd?

Was it plastic-bagged and namelessly tagged?


I prefer to picture it on a parachute, still orbiting,

rather than being filed away in an earthly archive.

The bridal bouquet no one ever dared to catch.


If we weren’t so tone deaf—or unwilling to listen—

what might be gleaned from the wordless sermon

of that turd? A modern but less elegant version of


The Tower of Babel: boisterous kids barging into

our parents’ room, invariably creating a mess.

Reminding us we still have yet to be potty-trained.



Potential Obituarists for Humanity


The Orangutan? Sharing over 97% of our DNA—

can we trust them? Even if they’re willing to sign

our history, will there be gestures complex enough

to express a psychology so bent on self-destruction?


We could ask the cooperative Bottlenose Dolphin,

but the cheerfulness of their squeaks could never

fully convey the sense of emergency we unleashed.


Surely, African Grey Parrots would be fine reporters.

If we were more concerned with being candid than

cinematic, laundering our worst scenes with filters.


Elephants would make much more reliable sources

with their infamous memories. But there are limits

to their altruism if they can’t forget our lust for ivory.


Mother pigs sing to their young. If we weren’t busy

eating them, they might be convinced to compose

a dirge for us, some ballad to recount the fabulous

tale of an animal that once dared to rule the Earth.



Michael Montlack is author of two poetry collections and editor of the Lambda Finalist essay anthology My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them (University of Wisconsin Press). His work recently appeared in Poetry Daily, The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, Barrelhouse, december, Cincinnati Review, and phoebe. He lives in NYC, where he teaches Poetry at CUNY City College.


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