Two Poems | Jeff Whitney

7 mins read

What Happens in Hour Four?

I’m paying attention to the lyrics in this song 

which go you can’t…always get…what you want… 

but if you try…you get what you need. I’m paying attention

because that’s one thing I do. Others include falling

asleep reading in bed and jumping in the air at graduations 

like it’s the first day of the rest of my life. 

I’m paying attention to places like Norway 

where they’ve built the first octopus farm—this article I read

spent a few pages worrying it could be a disaster 

ethically. Which it probably is. Name anything right now

in front of a mirror and see if you don’t notice the bruises 

patterning your tongue. If what we’re up to is what I think we’re up to

we’re in auditions for translator of the untranslatable voice 

at our center, and having a truly awful show. Hence I am leaning forward

and listening. Hence we want to walk through the world on fire 

complaining about the cold heart we dangle from a string on our neck.

As if we didn’t tie the string ourselves. As if there were a knife small enough 

to cut the electrons at the center of our most anxious atom, freeing

us. Hence: we can’t always get what we want. See: today 

on our walk Swayze tracked a squirrel as it danced 

from tree branch to telephone wire. Clearly the master

had become the student. I was trying to decide what I need

and what I want, and if they’re compatible with what The Royal 

We need. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be removing this hook from my lip

for example, or finding others to join me. After the octopus story 

I found pragmatic tips for surviving the first hour of a nuclear impact. 

By the second hour, apparently, you’re on your own. And by the third: 

why aren’t you dead? I used to get all gee shucks when asked what I really need. 

Now you might find me late at night looking for a perfect place in the grass 

to deposit the spider from my shower. We’re both still living: that’s 

usually what I mean. Lucky for us, the army of octopus is only floating babies 

in theoretical glass jars, backlit like the Jesus in a painting in my neighbor’s den 

our first night on weed. Matt spun a globe and Jeremy tooled around 

with a yo-yo. I was waiting for nothing and nothing came. It was abundant.

Things Keep Happening

In the first real trouble of my life, dad told me, 

“It’s not if you hold the gavel, it’s if you bring it down.” 

And then the next domino was placed, My Brother 

And The No-Good Night He Got a DUI. 

And the next: I got fired from the boat store. 

They said, “We aren’t disappointed, just angry.” 

Then, as I walked out, they corrected themselves: 

“You know what, actually, we’re disappointed, too.” 

Que Sera. And then for two weeks we were religious. 

I stood in a youthful crowd with my hands up hoping 

and aspiring to show Katie W what a good boy I was. 

But then some child of doubt murdered my child of belief

and it was over. What will be will be. It got really Lord of the Flies 

for a minute inside me, but we’re better now. God exists 

or doesn’t, Katie’s a guidance counselor and the world’s 

more habitable for it. Life’s now killing the same 

ant, releasing the same yellow spider. Domino 

after Domino. My vocation is nodding along 

like a dog who’s exhausted two of three tricks and trying 

to decide if he should go back to trick 1 or 2. It’s my authentic 

gesture to the universe thus fulfilling my destiny as bird 

who presents discarded Monopoly piece and gold 

foil wrapper to researcher it’s grown fond of. 

Or all we’ve ever been is one of many baby turtles 

crawling the wrong way up a beach towards lights of a city whimpering 

“Moon mother, I am coming.” Either way, the next domino

is already here. We’re being fitted for clothes in the eternal museum

and if I’ve understood this past life correctly we get to choose 

which position we’re in, what we’re wearing, if our hands are up.

Jeff Whitney’s most recent collection is Sixteen Stories (Flume Press, 2022). His poems can be found or found soon in 32 Poems, Adroit, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, and Sixth Finch. He lives with his wife in Portland.