Paul Killebrew


Anyone's Two Minutes


The moon is empty,
whatever else may be happening
in the change of setting.
He removes his hand
from the inner pocket of his blazer,
and it is empty.
Her hand finds its way
from her hip to his
and then across his back,
flat and moving upward
until her fingers hook
just over his collar
and tug just barely.
"I just thought," she continued,
"we could extend to each thought
the courtesy of completing it."
The small crowd
that had coagulated around her
broke into laughter. The ceiling caved right in.
Pure imitation is only possible
in the cult of authenticity,
for these are the flowers of our youth,
the cant of glorious magmas
instantiated in molecular puzzles
of personally offending highwire commentary
delivered in drollest New England chowder.
Exhale of concept.
The future of the worker
is closing its doors.
It's fine with me if nothing happens.
I expect some feelings of disappointment,
but they won't encompass us,
not with so many dots to fill in
and the regular accomplishing of sentences
in the high-spirited yellow living room,
steam of small dishes
against the cold weather,
children's desperation, a loosening
of screens, a face at the window
receding. The darkness,
as they say,
abounds within us.
He choked to death on his own joke.
The dogs had some kind of dispute.
Choose a glass from this tray and wait.
She smiled from the corner of the stadium.
I borrowed this car from a sick neighbor.
The signs insist all they like.
I think we know better.
No one delivers a punch like me.
I can't even feel my hands.
It's been ages since I thought of this.
Please help.
We're desperate for your love.
Revise at will and send on.
I can't wait to hear what you think.
Then I consider explaining to him just how awful he is to me.
I lost all interest in ever saying anything.
I just sat there and took it.
I don't expect to stay much longer.
I just don't see how I could.


Credible Hulk



no one’s writing elegies for the many electrons whose chastity will be compromised by the trip these words take from the rural acres within me to your cavernous needs or saying anything else would dignify this life consumed by ideas of status      always discomfiting and braided scrupulously into address and other concessions to ersatz virtuality in human companionship that form an index of fears directing me by clearing the table until I’m reduced and free within ever-diminishing vocabularies and branchless deformed diagrams coddled by the bald revulsion of my psyche from the plans of its current husk in a stammer that presents itself within the theater of my present as laughter      unbelievable laughter for the wasn’t      for the helix of how we’re deciding never about the inversions of tomorrow last behind our deflating thought balloons pre-decked and -creeped out in solid November blue between plexiglass apartments making      as in shaving or obits      uncomfortable distinctions between the living and the dead who demand immediate removal from all situations through the mouth of a zombie      defined for these purposes as a refractor of life unconsummated by speaking      undisciplined in breathing      and generally unwilling to go      even if it’s just to another narcoleptic library of buttons      meaning humanity arranged alphabetically with each keystroke coming at one’s “time”     the rapture a word with billions of letters      or even attempting a surface a little closer to the un-worth-it-ness of most minutes dripping vapid revolutionary patter onto forcefields of obliviousness created by the collision of self-regard with the technology of its logic taken to ever more spiraling and baroque ends of fractals beginning with eyes unable to tear themselves away from themselves      making a web of webs like crosshatching shading the banks of the Lethe in the overwrought art of another time when alienation engendered by classical references was thought a fortunate byproduct of making them if not their point altogether      for such are the anxieties of wealth      the buildup of resistance to need until each day is a menu of escalators dotted by the most fabulous sighs wearied of all styles ideas observations moods or anything conveying effort or death-avoidance rather than the living death found in sparse corners of complete luxury made by undulating walls of chameleons becoming indistinguishable from each other or a thousand-chameleon collaboration called “Waterbed” that I saw in a gallery window match-girl-style as I walked alone through the culture canceling bars and knitting attention from time-privileged keepers of skim milk faces impetuously lacking even a dusting of gravity      but it wasn’t then that I began to harbor a fantasy of immediate passive nonexistence      to be instantly gone      industrial accident      undetectable illness      tainted food      to be done     and soon      but tragically and without effort      a consumer’s death      a void already encompassing us in an actuarial sense      and it feels so good      the thought I mean      the thought of the possibility      that infrequent tree that immediately fulfills all excuses and heralds the long-awaited arrival of assumptions detached from all facts before our gaze pivots away to a video online of a reporter swallowing pills as she says in dense gestures that she’s a title hovering like a drone over a spiritual text written in the gap vibrating between the ground truth of her actions and what she’d wanted to happen      her memory an unreliable reader taking occasional bites from a black muffin and making incomplete copies of everything in plaintive earnest pastels until another hand hits reset and one color comes from all directions      brings the ventriloquism of the senses to the front row and cancels now as sculpted seconds flake off like scales through stripes of sun and dust      green drapes of dust in the solicitous air admitting all of this      but only this      this wonderful movie      this manifesto of fall leaves set to the music of passing trucks      this soul untorn by a night of downs      this eyesore ambience of all the pleasure we live for but can’t any longer stand      that no one’s standing within      or expelling the magnanimous melting ache from the turn no one is taking toward Saturday’s little-known 5 a.m. or any day’s second desk covered with lies told for the sake of the pain they’ll cause you when the tick-tock of tectonic descent into a life quite different from any you’d pay for in the currency of your own breath reveals itself in the drip drip drip of indignities and sleights that gradually calibrated expectations down to what remains of the force of your personality      the weight of a single piece of paper upon another      but maybe I’m not thinking of this the way one should as a funnel that runs from life to life so that a void up here implies an abundance down there      like in parenting how a child who wants more of you gives you less of what you ask or the youngest part of the root is the end while whole areas behind may be mostly or entirely lifeless      so what good are they except as a line that connects one thing to another even though the weather keeps modulating the default settings      requiring constant adjustments that drive the pendulum out further and further      and I know the moral of this story is acceptance      if not immediate then one email at a time      even if all dashes are hoped or I can’t stand the sight of my own voice      even if I’m convicted of attempted sleep during the soul removal process by a less expensive fate      even if we wake up together in an edible mirror whiffing drafts of extinction as we skip an auspicious mind-melding opportunity      even if nothing happens at all      and this I think is what Lesley was getting at when she told the parable of the sleds during parent education night at Elmer’s day care after we’d had the second big snow of the season      that when we      the parents of small children      take our kids sledding in the morning      the older kids are already there because they get there before our kids      because they always get there first      and although they didn’t think of it this way      the older children make sledding possible for our kids by preparing the runs     flattening the snow into chutes that keep the littler ones on course      but when we first arrive      the older children tell us we can’t sled there because it’s their hill      though eventually they relent and even show our kids how to do it      how to sit      how to get going      and then the older children even push the little ones in their sleds down the hill and cheer when they make it to the bottom      and this      Lesley said      is how our children learn that play is encoded with instruction      that this is why our children have so many seemingly nonsensical rules in their make-believe      that they master form before content      and Lesley invited us to think of this not only as a series of petty dominations but also as a scaffold around the building of experience      not only what happens but the circuits along which it’s delivered      methods of knowing      headphones of water      newspapers of stamina      fashion of mishaps as past-tense gin minced massive lists that miss has-been hacks asked in rasped hints if fasting on rent lasts after a pinch from glad-handing flacks sent to ratchet up glints of cancerous stats entrancing the pansies dancing in Kansas wind hacking clapboard and sin into vast caches of flab fastened with straps to twin masks that went hand-in-hand with twin mandibles gabbing in matching accents that an acting stint in Flint Michigan isn’t as bad as it






isn’t as bad as it





has been in the past that bent winter plans into absent dissent against absence that attacked with intense instant pants the askance sense of a man as a plant or rancid spam inimical to gnats that didn’t lack trash pinned back with cash scammed from sand in a land grab for gas as in Solaris      the Tarkovsky version      and how the woman who has appeared in the space station realizes that she is not Kris Kelvin’s dead wife but only his projection of her because she remembers nothing that he himself doesn’t also remember      how what if this is our existence in relation to the mind of God     that what seems impenetrable within us represents the extent of God’s thinking on the subject      that it’s impenetrable because there’s nothing there      that those chapters are unwritten      that there is nothing to grasp except the boundary of the knowable and the sadness and elation of reaching it      time blanching in the fist     eyes half closed as billboards disappear upon viewing and tones render out from the complete maybe whose direction can be known but not its strength      and I’ve been in the corners correctibly talking for as long as I can remember      but I’m just looking for more of myself in a lesser present and a wider ground




            My writing began bemused with the glamorous sentence of English syntax, swelled up or rolling past, a tangle from which meaning, the fantasy of solidified thought, stages its periodic escape on the schedule of sound manifesting within the eyes as transsensory smell absorbed like the physical paper before you by a flat mental plane you live your life believing is the present. My dreams do not arrive by mail. They do not arrive at all. They call and leave long messages of which this is a transcript braided into words along arbitrary vectors in physical space, left to right and top to bottom in one of the corners of this unknowable shape, given more than its due for these affectations of permanence, old technology for storing the voice for sending across distance, time, and mortality, for the convolution of voices, their combustion and repulsion, like your own that you hear within mine but that I can’t hear back—you’re at a distinct advantage unmatched by my control over this unspooling of phenomena that’s only a thread of your total experience as you sway in and out of whatever we collaborate here, for now and possibly later in reflection if this device has worked as the culture intended.

            But the culture’s fundamental image of literature is the treasure map. I have no fundamental image, I have the contents of my skin. It is the only place I exist. I was born on July 14, 1978, or that’s the premise I’ve been working with. I don’t exist here, not even as evidence, but the mixture evokes luxurious possibilities, that’s what I think about, not actual presence or the fully ingested pill.

            It takes so long to learn how to read. Mostly I’m just looking. The best moments have a blinding flare around them that overwhelms the rest and is all that matters later, to me I mean, the person at the bottom of this pile of laundry. Or is that you? Split the difference, it’s him, the desire to be known by everything, to know everything, of which the language is testament, not in content but in waking up, so untrustworthy, such dark impulses, so awkward to bend into an instrument of peace. Language is not an economy, no more than an economy is natural. That’s what I find so interesting, the art, which for me began in the cracks, irony though it can’t stay, all those hilarious and tragic distances, not unlike my own from the event, from the fully ingested pill. What I mean is I miss you, I miss you even when I’m with you, I miss you structurally and permanently. I miss of the pain of your talk.

            This isn’t what I wanted to do at all, but now all I feel are distances between “sentences laid end to end” (Virginia Woolf) and the rhythm of distances, steps or jumps, or chasms the mind balks at crossing.



End Guys


I love the fact
that you have a great
way of saying
the government has said
it would mean
the world to his house
and the rest of the year
before that is not
the best of all low in the morning
is a good time
with the best of the year
and the best thing to say it was
the best thing to say it was the best
of the best way of the best thing ever
when the first place I have no clue who
I was in my room for a long way in hell
for the first time in the world to me
and my mom is so much fun
and I have no clue who I was in my room
for a long time ago
and I have to be a good day
to be a little more time
with the same thing to say
that the best way to the gym I love
you so much for the next two years
of my life and death of the day I have
no idea how I feel so good
to see my baby I know
you have to go home and sleep
and I don't have to go home and sleep
and I don't have to go back to sleep now I can be
a little too much of it was the best way of
life in prison for his part in my room for improvement
of the day before you go can be found the word is not
in so much fun with my mom is just
a bit more like the same thing
over and over again and it and I
have no idea who you love you too much
and I love you so much fun
to be a little bit
more than like the best thing
about being it would be
mean to me that I and the other hand in my life
is a so called into the best way
to the point in my room
and my phone to get my money
and time consuming but it is not
an amazing day I will not have
to go be the same thing
over a week ago now
that I'm going back and forth between
the point of view and the other hand
is not the same thing over and over
again in the morning to the way
of saying that he had been
a long time to speak for themselves
and their families who are not
the only way you want me
and you have no idea what
I'm doing this weekend is going to the point of view
of a sudden urge to watch this video
of me and my friends playing
it on the phone with a little bit of a new phone
and the first half of the thing
when you have a lot more fun than I thought
you would like to see you soon enough
the year before is not the only way you are
the most recent quarter of this month
able to see my baby brother just asked
me to be able to see my baby brother
and her husband and father
and his colleagues in a statement
issued by time I was able to get my nails
going back to sleep in my head hurts so bad
that it was not immediately available
from the thing is not an option for me
to get my hair so cute when you get
the hang out soon enough
for the first place for me and you
have no idea how much you can do is get it to the point
of view of a new one for me
to get my money back or something
like that is the only thing
I don't know how the first place I can
get with a lot more
than one of my life and death
in the world to get a little more
than one of my life
and I don't think that the two men
were arrested on suspicion of involvement
in a row of the year
of my favorite song on my way
to get the hang of it and the best thing
to me to make my nails so cute
when you have a lot more than one person
that I can see in a row
of the best way of life is to think that the two men
were arrested on suspicion of involvement
in a while ago and now it won't let you down
and the best of luck to the point
of the best way for a long day ahead
and do not want a new one of my life
and the other day I don't think
I can see it in a while ago
and now it won't let you down
on my way to get the hang of it
but the other day I have
no clue what to do
for the next two weeks that I don't
think I have a clue what to do for
the next few weeks that I don't think I can get the hang of it
all day and night in a while to figure out how
to make the most important thing
of a day for a while ago.


Those Feelings of Complete Desperation


The room itself is about the size
of a public high school gym
in a smallish town an hour away
from the region's largest airport.
I'm standing at one end of it
squinting because of the sun
coming through a window
directly in front of me.
It is 7:45 a.m. on my black wristwatch.
I heard the door I came through lock behind me.
I have never been more in love.
The smell is unbearable.
Standing to my left
is a man muttering to himself.
A child is on the floor at his feet.
The child looks up at me and says,
"She's trying to ask you a question."
"What is the question?" I ask.
"I don't know. I can't understand her."
The sun has moved up in the sky.
My eyes are clear and closed.
The feeling of love courses through me
and pushes tears out of my face.
There's a relentless, swirling pressure
in my sinuses and hands
that seems part of a single, larger vector.
I am going to think all the way through this.
"What are you trying to keep to yourself?"
"Everything I can. It's a rolling landscape."
Should we perhaps communicate without punctuation
Yes I think that would be easier
Do you feel close to your loved ones
I feel embedded within them
The room fills with laughter.
Hundreds upon hundreds of laughters
going in a circle around the edges.
I am so curious to learn more about you.
Where did you grow up?
I'm sorry, I can't hear you.
Where did you grow up?


Which parent were you closer to as a child?


Which parent has the largest claim on you now?


Could you describe a time when some part of your physical body appeared to be someone else? 


Why have you pushed so many people out of your life?


How do you account for the incongruity between the license you give yourself and the
expectations you have of others?

How, exactly, do you expect things to get better?       

I don't know how I missed it,
but the walls are the most intense
shade of green I have ever seen.
The sunlight yellowed the color before,
or maybe a glare, unacknowledged lobbyist
of the world,
corrupted my impressions.
My face appears on the wall to my right.
Not my face at this moment
but at some other time.
I'm looking directly at me.
I don't remember making this recording,
if that's what it is,
maybe it's from the future.
The laughter stopped
when my face appeared on the wall.
Now all I can hear is a shushing sound,
not insistent, but soothing.
It's not coming from my face,
not the one on the wall, that face is now
speaking, I hear the words
from my own mouth,
I'm talking uncontrollably,
saying, I think, what the wall is mouthing,
"Most of the time I'm either bored with myself or annoyed,
oscillating between those two depending on how angry I am.
Occasionally—very occasionally—I have that feeling
of satisfied self-regard, like you see on the faces of old people
at the end of commercials about retirement planning,
looking downward from a sun-drenched hillside,
as if to say something about how you could feel in the afterlife,
looking back and knowing you did good
and left something meaningful and substantial.
Lately I've been trying to gauge the point after my death
at which the overwhelming feelings of regret begin to subside,
where I finally reach symmetry with my feelings
about the time before my birth.
That point seems to be my 115th birthday,
when my expectation of being alive diminishes to nothing.
Everything between now and then is completely fraught,
but afterwards, like before my life, is someone else's homework."
Mirrors, ghosts, shadows, smoke, fog on English landscapes,
roses, rings, hearts, champagne, the tips of tiny snowflakes.
At this point things were much more difficult to comprehend.
The room suddenly became very dark
except for a small, shapeless fleck of light
that fell directly upon the mouth of the person
muttering at my side. I looked at the mouth
for what could have been hours
and began to suspect that the muttering
carried no intention of making itself understood,
at least not in the conventional sense,
and that instead it was bestowing upon me
a physical address in the phone book of my experience
for the previously amorphous zones of my failures of meaning.
Then it occurred to me how fortunate and unnerving that would be—
for all I could not understand to organize itself
into a single voice, just to my left.
The room once again filled with green and yellow light.
I felt an intense heat on the back of my head.
I turned around and stared directly into the spotlight behind me.
I thought it was the sun.


Paul Killebrew was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1978. His two full-length poetry collections, Flowers (2010) and Ethical Consciousness (2013), were published by Canarium Books. He currently resides in Maryland and works as a civil rights lawyer. 


Published December 2015.