john sweet

in a room, blindly


Not lies, really,

but truths that can’t be proven.


The ghosts of Aztecs,

of Incas.


Parking lots.




Man rolls the dice to see which of

the children will starve,

and then the bomb goes off.


Seventeen dead, blood everywhere,

the pews of the church on fire.


The runoff from the mill

dumped into the river.


Close your eyes and picture it.


The first time we met and then,

two years later,

the first time we made love.


Oceans on every side of us,

wars to the south,

to the east,

and I told you you were beautiful.


Had no words beyond that,

only abstractions.


Only need.


Thirty seven years old and

suddenly no longer blind and,

in the mountains,

the killers were making new plans.


In town,

the streetlights were coming on.


It seemed almost possible

we would find our way home.


aesop’s blues


in the cold white light of

febuary mornings

in the shadows of obsolete monuments

where we no longer touch


this is the world defined by

indifference and rust


this is a handful of salt held out

to christ while he dies on the cross


a gift without meaning

or offered with nothing but malice


a man walking slowly across

the frozen river and

then gone


sends his love

which is worth nothing at all


by john sweet

john sweet, b 1968, still numbered among the living. A believer in writing as catharsis. Opposed to all organized religion and political parties. His latest collections include APPROXIMATE WILDERNESS (2016 Flutter Press) and the limited edition chapbooks HEATHEN TONGUE (2018 Kendra Steiner Editions) and A BASTARD CHILD IN THE KINGDOM OF NIL (2018 Analog Submission Press). All pertinent facts about his life are buried somewhere in his writing.

John Sweet, Featured Author

church on fire


says i’m sick of

this shit


says tell me a story with a

happy ending for a change, and so i

paint her one of tanguy’s skies



i paint her one of

kahlo’s visions


i drive over to the north side

to find her father, but

no one’s seen him in

twenty years


no one gives a fuck about

the sixties, no one gives a shit about

lennon’s murder, about reagan’s

death, about anything other

than money or power


the past is empty nostalgia, the

future a fever dream of possibility

and i sleep on the couch

all week


i consider apologizing for

things i haven’t done


in the end i keep quiet

and the infection spreads


the sun barely clears the hills to the

south on the coldest days of the year and

the air is thick with the smell of

gasoline, of metal grinding against

metal, and she says

             slow down


says that was the exit but the

trick is to get further away, out to

where the hills no longer have names,

out to where the trees rise up forever

dead from lakes of black water,

and the trick is to forget the children,

and the trick is to drive out past

even this, out past memory and

pain, but the truth is that the

trick always fails


the truth is that sex always

ends up feeling better

than love


isn’t this what you’ve been

waiting to hear me say?



upstate landscape w/ minor premonition


or all of those days spent

waiting for something to happen


all of those wasted hours caught

beneath a pale white sun, beneath a colorless sky,

and it was always early afternoon and it

was always the middle of november


powerlines stretched from dying

house to dying house and

empty trees never quite casting shadows

across barren lawns


the highway and the back roads


endless empty spaces packed tight w/

the ghosts of the past


nothing subtracted from


again and again



: :


the car out of gas on

fire at the edge of the highway the

swimmer alone late autumn or

early his wife missing

or sleeping

the children not yet imagined

and this car this wasteland this

all barren fields and powerlines all

empty stretches of interstate

mountains in the distance

and a man you might have

been always swimming

towards them



imaginary poem while waiting for rain


but this is only the day of

angels and we are only cities on fire


we are in the car for eight hours straight,

up and down side streets,

scoring and then using and then looking to score again and

what we smell like, i’d guess, is

slow meaningless death


what we believe in are better gods

or no gods at all

and the radio is tuned in to neverending static on the

morning your husband walks out the door


still gone four days later,

fucking someone’s sister in a leaky trailer and

together they are only a monotonous story with a

predictable ending


a suicide that drags on for seven years


and her children sit and wait outside the

bedroom door, and this boy no one knows is found

alongside the interstate, raped and beaten and dead,

eyes gouged out, coat hanger wrapped

tight around his throat


fourth of july in this

age of casual oblivion


religion forced down your throat and

deep up into your ass and whoever tells you that

voting will bring about change is a liar


power will always be power and poverty a crime and

we have been walking lost through this forest

for days now or for a month or maybe for

half our wasted lives


i have told you i love you and i have

told you i hate you and

neither one is anywhere near the truth


i have tasted your sweat and i have

drunk your blood and i have

offered you mine and

we are dying stars in broad daylight


we are dirty needles on piss-stained floors


the truth sounds better as a metaphor and then

better still as a lie and the windows here

are all broken, the walls filled with

dead and dying bees


end of july


walk out the door and drive through

100 miles of nothing and then

100 more and then start to see a pattern


believe only in what you can hold


fall asleep at the highway’s edge beneath

a relentless sun and

what the fuck were you thinking,

growing up, starting a family?


what the fuck were you

thinking, giving yourself away?


bought a house with no roof, no walls,

water in the basement


pulled the plug on your father


spoke quietly about your grandmother’s suicide

in a roomful of strangers and none of them

listened and why would they?


this is the 21st century


age of emotional famine


age of indifference


wake up in the middle of frozen lake in

early february with a head full of

broken glass and think about summer


try to remember how you

ended up here


open your eyes for once in your life


by John Sweet


john sweet, b. 1968.opposed to organized religion and to political parties.  ideologies in general, altho he DOES have a soft spot for the concepts of surrealism and post-punk.  30 years spent wrestling w/ the idea of writing as catharsis.  most recent collections are THE CENTURY OF DREAMING MONSTERS (2014 Lummox Press) and A NATION OF ASSHOLES W/ GUNS 2015 Scars Publications, e-chap).

John Sweet: Featured Author

what becomes


you are breathing on the

frozen ground with broken ribs you

are smiling and we are higher up

between venus and the crescent

moon in the last seconds before

first light we are falling we are

praying are laughing at the

idea of someone else’s pain


are laughing in the tall grass and

she is turning away with

broken hands a bleeding mouth and

i have known her i have held her

and he is at the wrong end of

the gun


he is no one or at least is no one

we know and she is laughing

as the trigger is pulled


he is laughing and they are

breathing with their lungs full

of iridescent poison full of

broken glass and this is the

moment when she speaks my



this is the taste of

her salt on my lips


we are alone here together and

moving deeper

into the heart of salvation


a luminous song


baby shot in the head outside a liquor store,

held up like a shield by its father and

no one can tell you when this desert began and

no one can tell you where it ends


the maps are all drawn in black on black


the politicians all laugh


it can go two different ways

you see

and the dogs believe in violence and the

whores believe in money and

both will always lead to power


and the bay is dead and then the father

but it’s a long ways away in

both space and time


a warm summer evening on

the opposite coast and i’m 26


i’ve given up on heroes and i’ve given

up on god and what it feels like is freedom


a small surrealist game to be played in a




with polished stones and

bleeding hands and naked lovers


a pile of skulls left at the water’s edge

and the mother says he never

really wanted a child and

the humor in pain is sometimes difficult to find


the joy found in terrorizing others is

what makes us human


seems like what you’d actually want to

be is something

more or something less


an answer


life wasted crawling towards water beneath the

sky blue sky and these

last days of winter and this taste of dirty frost


this 10 below zero this neverending wind and all of

the furniture from

the burned house spread out on the lawn


jesus in his unmarked grave

dreaming lightning bolts


understands the kingdom of god is a

fairy tale for suckers and fools


knows in his endlessly dying heart that a man who

wants for nothing is a man who can never be trusted




and nothing and

nothing and then ten

below zero at five thirty in the morning



am just trying to remember how to

breathe and how to be

am through believing in gods

in heroes

from room to room
with absolute clarity


need a gun or a window or the
doorway to a different kingdom

need to be a fist


a believer in those happy

days of open wounds


a priest waiting to

fuck or be fucked


i would give you hope if i could

just for the pleasure of

taking it away again


the bleeding horse sings one last song over the graves of 500,000,000 nameless victims


and if all you are is a ghost or

even if i find only one small place that

isn’t enemy territory


if the dogs have all eaten

their fill of corpses


call it a victory without

naming the war


let me rediscover hope


let me drown in the

ocean of your beauty


it’s enough that what we have will

still matter

even when nothing else does


by John Sweet

john sweet, b. 1968, winner of the 2014 Lummox Poetry Prize. opposed to the idea of plutocracies attempting to pass themselves off as democracies, and to all organized religion. not too impressed with television, either. collections include FAMINE, INSTRUCTIONS FOR DROWNING and the upcoming THE CENTURY OF DREAMING MONSTERS.

First Portrait of Maria, in the Style of Dali

You in this sepia-toned photograph,
with your arms wide open in greeting,
with your hands held up in surrender.

Edge of highway, corner of house,
hint of something better. A body of water,
maybe, or the back of someone else’s

A gun pulled from inside the
killer’s heart, and he says Mr. Lennon,
then smiles, then pulls the trigger.


I’ve gotten ahead of myself here.

I’m ten years old and in a boat with
my father and two of his friends, and the
engine has died. The tide is going out,
and the only sound is the pull of the

The only heat is the
mindless glare of the sun.

I don’t know you yet,
haven’t fallen in love with you,
haven’t let my tongue flicker lightly
across your nipples in a
curtained room.

The story is over,
or is possibly just beginning.

I have the picture, but can never
make out the expression on your face.


by John Sweet

a small dog, bleeding

it happens this way sometimes,
where the children die from the poison that
seeps up from underground

you vote for one person or the other,
and the children die, and it’s not war but
business, and both words are actually just
different ways of saying profit


new computers will be given to
the schools as gifts

the sharpened teeth of priests will snap
the bones of young boys in two

what you need to believe in are
rabid dogs
speaking w/ the voices of humans

what we do is use the word political
to describe what we don’t want to
talk about and then, of course,
the children die

the war becomes nothing more than
one more mundane fact of life,
and the men who make money off of
the corpses of every dead soldier,
and that there are others out there
filming your daughters fucking
faceless strangers

that the poem is just a message
handed down from the
throne of god

you will ignore it like all of
the lies you’ve been forced to swallow
in the past, and then it will come
to define you


by John Sweet

the theory of sunlight on chrome

your name called out at
the exact moment
a woman’s body washes ashore
three thousand miles away
or a man pulling poems
from the bones of old lovers

obvious things

my wife and her fears

my lack of faith

my lack of money

the possibilities of
highways and of walls

the idea of starvation

of sunlight
through rainsoaked trees

and what if
the unborn child becomes
a weapon?

what if the ocean is bottomless?

don’t believe for a second
that any of this poetry

don’t think that
killing the killers is
the same thing as justice

and maybe
it doesn’t have to be

maybe christ’s death was as
as anyone else’s

can you accept this
as the truth or
do you want to see me bleed?

consider your answer

maybe all that it
makes you is human

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