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John Leonard


Mud smeared prisms, cracked

along the edges of faith and insanity.

We used to have picnics under that tree.

I caught a fly between my finger and my thumb.

He begged me to let him go and drunkenly I obliged,

but only to watch him drown in the contents of my glass

fifteen minutes later.

No man can be an island because they gave that job to a turtle.

I'm floating down a river and I see my father,

trapped between the amber sky and the violet shore.

He looks like that fly, so I close my eyes.

I only have two of them, which is why I find it hard

to see more than one thing at a time.

We eat dirt cake and sand pie when you're not around.

That tall, sturdy tree didn't give you any shade

as you fixed the rope to its bravest branch.

Slip it around your sweaty head like you slipped

That necklace around Mom's neck. Or, like God

slipped those cosmic rings around Saturn.

Don't tell me that He doesn't have favorites.

Middle children don't keep their youth

when they start taking walks in the woods.

Even the Turtle smiles brighter upon the hatchlings

who storm the beaches.

I still see you with my eyes closed.

All of you.

Varied shades of black and almost olive green.

I smell your pipe over rot and careless gin.

I know how far you had to fall when they cut you down.

I know that parts of you were stolen by the leaves.

Promises to Keep

Just after dusk,

and the late summer air is heavy with ash.

The earth feels loose beneath my feet—

pregnant with the echoes of gravel.

I strain my eyes, searching for the piercing glare

of headlights as blood slowly dries on my forehead.

I keep looking, but help is not on the way.

Is it common for a man to pray for

blindness, so that he may finally see?

And where is the moon hiding tonight?

An owl has stalked me for miles,

circumnavigating the merlot sky.

She taunts me with fading answers.

I come upon a car, abandoned in a ditch—

the same one I crawled out of hours before.

How often have I circled back to this scene?

I want to take my shoes off,

drown myself in a cornfield,

let the tall grass take me.

But then again,

the stars.

Traffic Cone

There’s always been a silver lining.

It’s tarnished, but if you melt it down

and shape it into a bullet, it will still

kill a werewolf.

Not all dogs chase cars.

Weeds don’t know they’re killing



Even monsters die.

The only difference is nobody sends

flowers to their funerals.

We don’t want what they leave behind.

We don’t want to know that blood tastes like dimes.


Things could be a lot worse:

Eight black balloons,

the last raven feather,

a gray hair floating

in your tomato bisque,

a list of strange denials.


I once knew a girl who thought

ghosts only haunted mansions

in New England.

Maybe there is still some good

left in this world.

Orange things made her laugh.

John Leonard is an English teacher and assistant editor of Twyckenham Notes, a poetry journal based out of South Bend, Indiana. He holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University. His previous works have appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Roanoke Review, Sheila-Na-Gig online, Rappahannock Review, Mud Season Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Rock & Sling, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Rockvale Review, IthacaLit, Trailer Park Quarterly, Genre: Urban Arts, and Burningword Literary Journal. His work is forthcoming in Chiron Review, December, The Oakland Review, and The Blue Mountain Review. John was the 2016 inaugural recipient of the Wolfson Poetry Award, 2018 recipient of the Josephine K. Piercy Memorial Award, and the 2019 recipient of the David E. Albright Memorial Award and Hatfield Merit Award. He lives in Elkhart, Indiana with his wife, three cats, and two dogs. You can find him on Twitter at @jotyleon.

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