Julie Weiss

School Morning Pep Talk 

You hide your head under the pillow 
as if my voice were a downpour 
of bullets, and I, an assassin  

that would gladly slit the throat of sleep 
for the pleasure of watching it bleed.  
You try to wail me out of range, 

beg me for five more minutes   
but I won´t budge, not with the faces 
of girls like you heavy on my chest, 

their futures gone cold, mute as stone.  
You´ve mastered a hundred different 
scowls to frighten the school morning 

across the border of your room,  
all of them monstruous, misshapen,  
like a face whose features  

have been carved up, burned to keep  
fear spreading across a country  
you´ll only ever see on television  

while pushing your breakfast cereal  
around the bowl, unconcerned with a belly     
that has never collapsed under the weight 

of an empty space. The wide-open territory  
of your blinds, through which sunlight  
billows and billows, reveals the path 

we walk every day, free of militants 
brandishing machine guns, of schoolhouse 
bombs. Full of girls dressed in bright colors,  

arms and legs bare as an autumn breeze, 
all of them hoping today´s classes  
will missile by. I want to sit at your  

bedside, sing about the girls who burst 
out of their shackles, who learn, despite  
the strangle of knowledge around their necks, 

but the only way I know how to wake you,  
my love, is through shadows that smother  
faces, through bullets that strike brains. 


Big Time Crime in the Countryside 

The words in the sand bear more weight  
than the children who wrote them. Kneeling, 

they scrawl letters around their bodies, 
a chained enclosure as relentless as iron. 

The fields abound with freedoms no longer  
visible beyond these walls we´ve raised 

with the stones of missed heartbeats.  
Last week, my daughter and her friends  

raced down the path to the far end of the grove 
where they pocketed handfuls of unripe olives, 

pelted each other with jokes and dares 
while we sat on a bench in the playground,  

swapping small town gossip, unconcerned  
when their voices fell, momentarily, into chasms  

of silence, or shadows snatched their silhouettes.  
My son and his friends bounced up and down, 

the seesaw teetering so near the fence 
their giggles spilled like bells on the other  

side. We didn´t hang over them like a fuss 
of armor or seek to quell their voices. 

Only birds, bugs, and butterflies lured them 
out of our grasp, and the maze of bushes 

lining the sidewalk was still the coolest 
spot to hide from parents when it was time 

to leave. Another silver Audi slinks by,  
the face in the window disheveled, 

ominous. We rush toward our children,  
stumbling over our fear, wondering   

when the chain of attempts will break, 
this prison come crumbling down. 


They Come When I Least Expect It, 

a mosaic of faces arranged on a wall 
of rain as I rage out of the busy café,  

late for work. Faces that once savored  
berry, caramel, cacao floating in a puddle  

I fail to sidestep. Faces blurring  
my glasses. For half a second, I want  

to pour them into a poem, as if poetry were 
crystal enough to hold the flow of thought 

and not crack. To say, I saw them drowning  
in reminiscence of their own deaths.  

And maybe at its most relentless, memory  
is a kind of endless drowning. Maybe  

I´m not standing at a traffic light, tapping  
my heel, but on the precipice of a revelation,  

my watch the tick of a million lives swept  
into the whirl of time. Worse is the spatter  

of muddy faces on my white pants, more sneer  
than laughter, the winter static not static at all 

but a crackle of fingers pointing accusingly  
at my phone, messages ping, ping, pinging 

as if an orchestra of friends who once lived  
were playing their bones on a xylophone  

shoved in the fear-filled cellar of my mind. 
I sail the lane to my office, faces blowing 

past trees they once climbed, past shops  
whose shelves they once perused, past  

ducks that waddled out of ponds to snatch 
bread from their once outstretched hands. 


When the World Was Rated X for Nudity 

If you´re hoping for black lace, 
a falling bra strap, rock-hard  
nipples, stop reading. If you´re sliding  

the tongue of your mind down 
my stomach, navigating a rain- 
swept slope, a voyager on a quest  

for treasure, this poem isn´t for you. 
If you´d calm down, though, and bare  
with me, my tongue will make   

an appearance as conveyor   
of incomprehensible sounds, once I slip  
on my mask. Yes, on. Here you are 

all knotted fingers and frenzied pulse, 
imagining downpour, a spill of silk around  
my ankles, words paralyzed in moan 

when I´m talking about the amount 
of air your lungs can hold without  
bursting, not like a body through  

the taut skin of orgasm but a smile, 
which shouldn´t have been seen at all, 
ruptured into a thousand hot flecks  

of shame. I´m talking about the stares  
as I hurried back home, condemnation  
so stark I could see the reflection  

of my X-rated face, horror rippling 
my expression, and now that I´ve got 
you tied to my nightmares, let´s climax 

to the future: my poem undressing 
in a valley of poems, earth´s elements  
lathered over every centimeter of my body. 

© Julie Weiss

Julie Weiss (she/her) is the author of The Places We Empty, her debut collection published by Kelsay Books. She won Sheila-Na-Gig´s Editor´s Choice Award for her poem “Cumbre Vieja,” was shortlisted for Kissing Dynamite´s 2021 Microchap Series, and was named a finalist for the 2022 Saguaro Poetry Prize. A two-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her recent work appears in Rust + Moth, Trampset, ONE ART and Rat´s Ass Review. Originally from California, she lives in Spain with her wife and two young children.

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