Spotlight on J. Taylor Bell

5 Poems for The Blue Nib

By: J. Taylor Bell


the suburban backyard is the bardo
of western civilization
any soul may loose itself like an arrow there
and wander freely with no danger
of ever encountering any sort of target

i was baptized while riding a pool noodle
& taught the dog from experience
not to howl at the back door
i learned a lot from the lazily mown lawn
like how to question the value of straight lines

one day back there we went to plant a tree
in the corner by the braided, sun-crusty hammock
and even from a young age i was beginning to see how
those branches & their lack of symmetry 
reinforced this lesson in perception
every crooked finger they ever pointed
seemed to gesture towards un-knowing things

mom would walk out with a watering can
and i’d point at the tree saying don’t worry
i already pissed on it

then she’d sigh and bend down to pluck a feather 
out from among some unbagged grass clippings
and pointing it absentmindedly at the sapling
said that thing may not be big enough to hold a nest yet
but one day it’ll be filled with divine music

then she turned to let it go 
and as i watched it being lifted away
by the wind, i thought
look at how the plume shines


in case you had forgotten, it is the 21st century
and your identity may once again be appraised
though how we got to this point is a mystery

it shouldn’t take any skill or specialty to see
every boss that ever got asked for a raise
said in case you had forgotten, it is the 21st century

why on earth would we supplement your salary
when your labor is as expendable as blank space
how we got to this point is a mystery

nothing repeats itself like employment history
we drag our tails through a considerable number of days
because in case you had forgotten, it is the 21st century

and it is guaranteed by social media standing sentry
over-qualified qualifies you for minimum wage
how we got to this point is a mystery

bygone aspidistras wither above the kitchen sink
dreams die in the corners to which they were chased
and in case you had forgotten it is the 21st century
though how we got to this point is a mystery


when i was a kid mom said books were just long lists
of wishful thinking & every night by milky moonlight 
she’d read me one about the ancient city of texcoco 
where in a farewell song emperor nezahualcoyotl once declared 
the earth is one long grave and nothing may escape it

wishful thinking indeed she used to say 
closing the book & drawing the blinds 
leaving me to consider the strange idea of a grave 
since nowadays it may not extend solely to the earth 
since this was written roughly 566 years before humanity 
could be observed swinging golf clubs on the moon 
and since it was 646 years before the first permanent housing 
establishment was erected there

this second statistic is another example of wishful thinking 

what’s more is it’s nothing new to say you’re afraid
since such modes of thought might still be necessary 
since nezahualcoyotl didn’t live to see the other day 
when my senator quoted mussolini on twitter
since nobody minds dynamiting canyons anymore
between themselves & the people they care about
since for all the good it has done being there for one 
another we may as well be golfing on the moon

since all this & since i was already in a volatile state 
of questioning reality 
since i’d just been eating an ice cream i bought 
for 2 bucks from the 99 cent van 
and since i was so disillusioned i sought a bench
since too many prepositions can follow walking
since i needed a while to make sense of things 
since i was thinking of a message i wanted to send 
to my one true love who didn’t know any of this 
since they are living so far away

since the contents were instead one long sentence 
about 15,000 bikes in amsterdam every year
since they’re fished from shallow canal graves 
being hauled away & melted down
like abandoned ice creams into scrap metal 
since what i really wished to say 
was something more like 
i love you

after Xu Zhen

i always enjoyed all the math problems
which arrived at their conclusions by means
of subtraction……………… a certain lucidity
a lack, a clarity like a vagrant
stumbling into the divine. white light
shining on sinews & cleaved genitals;
skin & body so immaculate you’d think
no way they ever knew eating disorders
or the chords a knife strikes on the body
and its piano keys……………….but now i see
what drives some people deeply down inside
their own disease; relentless misgivings
imply the hardest part isn’t simply living,
it’s knowing when to stop the chiselling.


                                                                            i was firmly mixed up in my fifteenth year       taking the bus to school every day       sending texts from under my desk       breaking my back trying       to diagram a clandestine plan        to buy a condom       and somehow i decided       the best way would be 7-11        with a big gulp & flaming hot cheetos       you know how it goes       one opens up the bag        pumps in the processed cheese then       slides it across the counter      beside the 3 pack purple box        with a sheepish nod       you smoked newports on the porch        which your mom bought for you       i got a ride from my brother       after cross country practice       since we only had high school english       in terms of courtship you sang          boyfriend by avril lavigne to me       and i thought wait       is she trying to tell me something       but then we were in your bed       blinds drawn over big ideas       and i stuck my fingers through the burns       in the twisted sheets       trying to concentrate on prosaic things        like john lennon for example        flashing the peace sign        in front of the eiffel tower       the dog barking in the backyard       the opened wrapper on the carpet floor      last high score on super smash brothers       but then there was a sudden buzzing down below        the sound of the slowly opening garage door           AHHHHHHHMMMMMMMM       a great wave of panic swallowing everything       where sometimes there is no time      to pause and reflect      and when people ask me about       my greatest fear        i refer to when we heard your mother       starting up the steps as i struggled       to stretch my jeans around my legs      but as far as most things        not working out goes       it could have turned out worse      do you remember how       she was surprisingly cool       about the whole thing       after all       she was the one       who bought you cigarettes       peeled the parental advisory sticker off       all your favorite CDs       rented us jackie brown       and said nothing out loud       about the tooth-marks on your neck      she gave a courtesy knock and waited       outside the door with her hands        on her hips then she promised        she wouldn’t tell my parents        i said thank you but then       with the moment long over       we made fingerpaint pictures       in the empty guest room until        mom arrived to pick me up

If you Enjoyed J. Taylor Bell then you will also like Dana St Mary

J. Taylor Bell is a Seamus Heaney Center International Scholar at Queens University Belfast

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