Three Poems by Justin Karcher

If Donald Trump Is Elected President, Orpheus Will Make the Flowers Cry


For my birthday I asked one of my exes

To dress like a maenad and jump out

Of a shipwrecked cake. She did.


Then I asked her to punch me in the face.

She did that too. Her hair looked like an oil spill

In the Mediterranean and I tried swimming


In her shampooed crudeness. Before I drowned in her

I asked if she could beat me to death

With my own whiskey dick.


She asked me if anything was wrong.

I said no and asked her to dismember me

Limb by limb. She laughed it off


Until she saw how serious I was.

I told her I’ve always wanted to be killed the same way

As Orpheus was, by sparagmos,


The act of rending, tearing apart or mangling.

According to myths, Orpheus was dismembered 

By raging Thracian women who were sick to death


Of his slam poetry, of his mansplaining,

The way he made dry stones hop like bedbugs,   

How he catfished a nymph named Eurydice


And almost brought her back from the dead.

Their obsession with each other disrupted

The natural order of things so he had to go.


Why can’t women in the Rust Belt be that furious 

At me? So determined to corner me in a forest,

For me to drop to my knees and confess my self-doubts.


No matter how hard I try, I’m never asshole enough.

After my ex left, my stomach bottomed out in loneliness

So I listened to the only voicemail saved on my phone,


A credit card representative letting me know

I’ve missed some payments. It was nice hearing his voice.

Most days a credit card representative is the only person


That calls me. Mismanaging my life is a reminder

That I’m still alive and I can’t give that up. 

I can’t give up my debt. I can’t give up that outsourced voice


Living in my iPhone. I like being reminded

How much I fuck up. It’s an adrenaline rush

And as I get older, I’m more comfortable


Being a masochist. Pain doesn’t wait

Until everything’s just right.

It doesn’t wait for you build up the courage


To talk to the girl or boy you really like.

It doesn’t wait for you to find the courage

To quit your unfulfilling job. It doesn’t wait


For you to get the courage to talk to the stranger

In the mirror. It acts quickly and instinctively

Like the beasts we’re supposed to be. I collapsed


Into sleep wishing there were someone in my bed

Bold enough to put my apnea in its place, strong enough

To carry my lucidness to a better dream somewhere far away.


The next day I’m still going strong, getting drunk 

On meteorites at this hipster bar and watching CNN 

On the TV and suddenly Donald Trump arrives in Cleveland


Via helicopter and there’s this huge crowd

Of patriotic morticians waiting for him.

Together they pretty up the cold corpse


Of Lady Liberty like it’s her wedding day.

Everyone’s so horny for things to fall apart.

Maybe they’re onto something.


Most important thing in life 

Is learning how to fall.

It’s how you build trust, by having trysts


With the air and hoping it keeps your secrets

Safe from the ground, away from the prying eyes

Of gravity. Everyone in America is burning concussions


Into their hearts so they forget how to feel

So they can ignore the consequences

Of ignoring reality. Instead of ripping themselves apart


They’re destroying the lives of all the people around them. 

A sad state of affairs so I have three shots of whiskey:

One for my lack of confidence, one for my fear of failure


And one for my inability to open up emotionally.

When I go outside, the sun is barely shining

Through the thick, dark clouds


And I think that if I softly sing to it

It will hop like a bedbug into a different solar system,

One that’s full of flowers always in rabid bloom.



Umbilical Cords Sinking to the Bottom of a Blue-Collar River


There’s this photo of me as a newborn

Riding atop the skeleton of a car

Coming off the assembly line.

It looks like I’m trying to break away

From the long umbilical cord

Connecting me to the placenta

Of the GM Tonawanda Engine Plant

Where my dad worked for forty years

Before he slipped on ice in the parking lot

And broke nearly every bone in his body.

That’s not the life I want to live.


It feels like I’m an engine

Separated from my car,

Having so much energy

With nowhere to put it

So I’m always traveling down

A rusted conveyor belt 

Through the heart of the city

Trying to let go of the burdens

That hold me back: student debt, hookups,

Climate change, caring for aging parents.

A bottle of Kentucky bourbon

In under ten minutes and I’m ready to fly.


The things that I see: shipwrecks of love 

Collecting honey dust at the bottom 

Of bongwater lakes. Thousands

Of scattered stars looking like headless

Chicken corpses floating in hot tubs

Filled with cowardice. Blue-collar

Addicts building a Babel out of

Streetcar scratch offs and pocket dictionaries

Because it takes a little bit of luck 

To see the face of God

But when they do, they’re gonna roll


Around in the Jehovian mud

Choking on the words 

They were never born to say. 

The bars in this town 

Are filled with nondescript chatter

As if everybody’s tongues 

Are wi-fi connections

With constant buffering issues.

You’ll never know your fellow man

Inside and out and that mortifies me.

Fate always finds a way to betray you.


I have a masochistic photographic memory

And I can remember every night

That a lover cheated on me.

A couple standouts: there was this one night 

That Nicole cheated on me 

With a UB music professor.

He wasn’t even all that talented, 

A Portlandian worshipper of John Cage.

If only he modeled all his songs

After Cage’s 4’33”, he would’ve done

The world a favor. Sometimes silence 


Is healthier for the ears when the passion

In your head is misguided, sounding more like

Two crackheads arguing over the last hit.

I wanted to beat the shit out of him,

Something my dad would’ve done,

But when I confronted the music professor

Like Achilles drunk on whiskey, the rage

Turning my eyes into empty cue balls,

He was cowering in the corner of the bar

Like a cat when the vacuum cleaner

Is turned on. I didn’t have it in me,


Not that time, at least. I let him off easy.

I’ve always failed at maintaining the legacy

Of my dad as an alcoholic rage-filled 

Factory worker, who would kill the world

Before it had the chance to explain itself. 

I don’t know… maybe I’m not headstrong enough.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had so many talks

With my mom, her breaking down 

Over my drinking and telling me 

I’m acting too much like him. 

Back when they were young


And I guess in love, he would fight

Any guy that would look at her.

He beat up this one guy so bad

The guy lost most of his teeth

And after that my mom never let anyone 

Look at her again. Now she’s a cat lady 

Who plays solitaire with tarot cards every night

Because I guess the future is something

That only you decide and if you feel 

Like you’re not where you’re supposed to be

Then you and you alone have fucked up


Because the future isn’t a team sport. 

My mom has one thing right though:

I am an alcoholic, but the chip on my shoulder

Isn’t big enough to weigh me down in rage.

I can’t go around beating up everyone.

There was this one night that Carly cheated on me

With a lawyer who moonlights as a bad community

Theater actor. That’s not his appeal, of course,

But the blow he always has on him is

And when Carly looks at a mirror

It’s always a funhouse mirror


Because her reflection is never just one reflection

But a bunch of them and that’s the thing that weighs her down

And I guess it’s easier to look at yourself in the mirror

When it’s covered in coke. The night she was trying

Not to find her reflection, I hadn’t heard from her

So I was up all night because we had just moved in together.

It was snowing and I was drunk on whiskey

And I was chain smoking outside and when the sun

Started to shine the snow in the backyard

Was littered with butts and it looked like a Normandy

Of betrayal. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t.


I knew what was going on. She didn’t make it

Into work that day and neither did I.

I stayed at my dad’s and jerked off to the eighty-seven voicemails

She left on my phone apologizing until 

She was blue in the face. I haven’t yet decided

If I want to beat the lawyer up or not. Maybe a month from now

He’ll be at the dentist getting new teeth

And my dad will be patting me on the back

Saying he’s proud of me that I defended my pride.

I don’t know… I’ve always been a failure

At living up to my blue-collar heritage


And on most nights I can hear the siren’s call

Of the conveyor belt luring me to an early death,

Promising me there’s a car where I can put my engine,

A car that will take care of me and take me on a drive

Through hell and even if I’m dead beneath my family tree

At least I can still say I have my pride. I don’t know…

On those nights I put on my dad’s old GM overalls

And walk the streets of Buffalo collecting umbilical cords

That have been tossed aside, the heredities that people throw away 

Because they dream of better lives, a little slice of heaven

Where the demons don’t buy you drinks, where they don’t


Whisper in your ear that everybody you love will betray you,

That this is the natural order of things and it’s gonna be okay,

Just be prepared and take action when it happens

And when the world smiles at you, that obnoxiously perfect smile,

Just know that you can make it toothless if you choose to

And that gives you power, it’s just that the people around you

Are always playing with fire, unaware that it takes all your strength

To hold back and not make things right          on those nights

I hop on the conveyor belt carrying bags full of umbilical cords

And am carried to the river where I dump these blue-collar heredities.

I watch them struggle a bit trying to gasp for the future


Before they sink to the bottom          on those nights

I chain-smoke and stare at the moon pissing on the husks 

Of abandoned factories          and I can hear the hum and rush

Of cars on the thruway          and I do my very best

To build up my optimism again          that each of us can escape the past,

That not everybody is an asshole, that not everybody is weak. 


I wish I would get more pleasure from being the bigger person.



When the Icebergs Die out, I’ll Still Be Dreaming of Frostbite


I hear two icebergs arguing 

In the apartment above me.

They’re the last of their kind,

Descendants of the last glaciation.

They fell in love around twenty thousand years ago

Off the coast of Greenland.


I thought they were the perfect couple

Like they were totally made for each other.

Nothing in today’s world can handle their coldness.

They come from a different time 

When coldness was used as armor for protection

Against a sun that didn’t give a shit anymore, 


A sun that left the scene like an absent father,

A dead star that went out for smokes and never came back,

Leaving behind a trail of carcinogen supernovas in the sky,  

Reminding every living creature on earth 

That at the core of our being is a bright, explosive cancer

That will only ever feel at home in the arms


Of another bright, explosive cancer. So, yeah,

I understand why everything had to freeze over.

Something drastic had to be done if we wanted to preserve

The best parts of ourselves. Glaciation 

Is necessary for survival, especially when the darkness comes

And doesn’t leave. However, the magnetism


Of our worst parts was too strong and that chemo sun

Rolled back into town on the back of radioactivity 

And the climate started to change and the icicles in our eyes

Started to melt until we couldn’t look past our sadness

And we started to live life like blurs jumping from fight

To fight, from bed to bed, building an ecosystem of sweat


For us to slip on and break apart. Passion is a good thing

But why bother when you can’t preserve it? The argument

Is getting louder and I think the icebergs are throwing things

At each other. I’m getting all shaky on the inside

And pour myself another whiskey. Alcoholism

Isn’t a cure for this, but it’s all I got. I go on my laptop


To get my mind off of things, but when I go to Google News

I see a bunch of articles about how humans have destroyed

One-tenth of Earth’s wilderness in the last twenty years, an area

More than twice the size of Alaska. Well, shit. Not enough

Has been done to protect the most beautiful places

In the world. The wilderness, where the best parts


Of ourselves can live their dreams, is dying out.

The icebergs are gonna kill each other 

And no one’s doing anything about it. In fact

I’m cowering next to a whiskey bottle 

And wondering why my girlfriend isn’t texting me back.


I know what’s going on. All I’ve ever needed

Was to fall in love with someone who will surrender

To the elements, that wintry periodic table

Spelling out our doom in hypothermic chemistry. 

It’s a language no one bothers to learn anymore.

I can’t handle all the fighting anymore


So I leave the apartment and go to the nearest tree.

I punch it over and over again until I’m bleeding

And broken and the red scuffs on my knuckles 

Look like tiny hearts. The icebergs are leaving me behind.

I’m just like everyone else. 



Justin Karcher is the author of Tailgating at the Gates of Hell from Ghost City Press. Recent works have been published in 3:AM Magazine, Plenitude Magazine, Foundlings, The Black Napkin, 63Channels and more. He is the editor-in-chief of Ghost City Review. He is the winner of the 2015 Just Buffalo Literary Center members’ writing competition. He tweets @Justin_Karcher.



Image credit: swifthandsam

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