Gene Justice is an American ex-patriate, currently living in South Korea. He was one of the editors for the online journal, Triplopia.
His prose and poetry have appeared online in Lotus Blooms Journal, Writers Against War, poeticdiversity, and in print in In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself, Vol. 6 (MW Enterprises 2005) and Literary Angles: the second year of poeticdiversity (Sybaritic Press 2005). He also maintains a semi-consistent blog, where he collects thoughts, ruminations, and resources of interest to the working poet.
The Far Shore
The last time I thought music would conquer the earth
I spun my crooked path northward toward its pole.
I sought out cold, and shivered at the sun,
my teeth set against the neon splash of culture.
Taking up the tongue of fear, I hoarded tales,
clutched them to my person like a tramp's last dollar.
They grew limp with sweat as I rejoiced
in each nuance I discovered. I offered them to Charon,
who laughed, and rowed away.
The city is naked and paid for,
and of the million million stories held here,
not one is worth the telling.
Salesmen grinning sports scores to bored women,
beggars blinking hair from their cheap meals,
poets howling words a dime a stanza
train conductors dozing at the rails.
Loves are lost, loves are gained,
loves are easily exchanged,
neon blinks, doormen wink,
mannequins are rearranged.
She is an aging whore who knows her business,
Disposing of each client ruthlessly.
The last time I thought music would conquer the earth,
I pressed the last of my money upon strangers.
Not one of them refused it, though all doubted,
peering through each bill suspiciously.
I packed a single bag, and wore a winter's jacket,
tramped off in search of some true currency.
I drank a toast to madness, and left them to their fire.
I'd yet to recognize within the music
the voices clamoring upon the farther shore.
All We Can Do
We do not seek explanations.
Content to feel motion through our senses,
the shrill roar of an airplane's rising suffices
to trade one city's mythology for another.
The city's rising ragged in the last night chill
streets in lines of hallelujah torn from the lips of girls, eyes outlined in black
a dying night-hymn blinking our with the morning's blank neons.
Falling into love in the battered dawn, praying with scarecrow knees
seeing dreams in spires, dreams in grey steel, dreams in rising smoke,
comfort in the dry rust of all dreams blunted by the dormant god in time's passing.
Living creatures under the gaze of stone angels erected to the impossible dream of home,
blunt chiseling toward divinity's frozen eyes forcing home distance,
forcing open the space needed to utter a name.
With clothed minds and sane with the weapons that outweigh us
unleashed in our cold furies accepting nothing less than the purity of ash—
landscapes of ash—seeking the shelter of overwhelming buildings,
ingesting poisons with minds lucid as a pin striking a bell we do not repent.
There's no covenant here, just light separated into its component parts.
Jaw set against our own voices, we swallow empty hours, walk crowded streets, ravenous
eyes crawling skyward against the hard lines of being, swallowing lies, inventing slums.
We take everything suddenly, pick codes from thin air,
confine the trouble we seek to words, whisper for help.
The stunned wondering of our latter days and the solitude of our unholy moments
on hold in line awaiting the coming fire,
the brute material contents of our prayers and the words that fail to hold them—
the fortune of balding tires and thrift store libraries,
blind wishing fullness into empty cupboards sustaining,
our rituals hewn from hidden dreams and all we share and fear made common.
Each small thing tethering atom to atom, self to earth
the soil shaken from the roots of weeds and the weeds' dying
songs and referents and the dividing water's cleansing carrying
and every unclean thing secreted into holy space seeking the pure act.
It's all we can do to keep looking.
Tonto shrugs it off
Why we? he blinks,
in vowelish puzzlement, and walks away,
confused, certainly, by the masked man
and all his masked complexes,
whatever drives him to save the day
and then ride away
before reality creeps back in: Mary Anne
knocked up by the tax revenuer
and Uncle Ned back down at the local
saloon, nursing the habit that got them
in this fix to begin with — three whiskeys
squinting into the afternoon dust,
listing every job he's ever held
for the benefit of some cattleman
who's drifting through and who –
meaning the cattleman – couldn't care less
if the farm gets foreclosed upon. It's a stretch
for Uncle Ned, who's been working one job
or another for the last fifty plus years.
There are, of course, the usuals:
ranch hand, bar keep, shop attendant—
but the gaps between regular work
offer up oddities — the day job
loading twelve hundred buffalo hide
onto a waiting train car, or the three weeks
he served as hired muscle for a lady friend's
bordello. He – meaning Uncle Ned –
keeps starting over, keeps remembering
some other odd job he's long forgotten,
retracing his steps in an attempt to chronicle
what he's always, up until this moment,
supposed was a linear progression,
guided by his own choices, trying to
pick that thread up at the beginning
and follow himself forward in time
to this place, where time is as blunting
to the senses as the whiskey he sips.
So when the masked man sends Tonto back
through to check on progress, and Uncle Ned
turns out to be in the same pickle, or worse,
a certain confusion surrounding pronouns
is hardly a thing to wonder at. The oddest
of his — meaning Uncle Ned's — jobs pales
in light of Tonto's work, performed competently
in a strange tongue in which none of the pronouns
seems quite adequate to the task at hand.
Might as well ask Why he? Or put paid
to the whole mess with Why I?
and acknowledge, finally, the fragile illusion
supporting our most cherished truths.