Poem of the Week: ‘Said the Artist to the Gun’ by Torrin Greathouse

Poem of the Week

3rd Place

‘Empath’
Olivia Selkin

I sat on a train and tried to turn my mind
To a more innocent pastime.
Texture. Mindfulness.
A godlike hand
Sweeps over the landscape.
It scrapes my wrist;
There are grass stains under my fingernails.
My thoughts slip back to the same hand
Slipping underneath the slit in a neck
To stroke the strange brain.
Why does there have to be
This barrier of skin
Between me and your blood?
Let me swap our organs
So we can experience
Each other from the inside out.
I need the intimacy
Only the vault of words
Into midnight spaces can provide.
I bottle your stories
A let them mature like wine.
I keep your brains in Tupperware boxes
As leftovers from a night out
In someone else’s head.
When my fingers won’t stretch
I’ll push them into your skull.
Your thumbs in my eyes,
Your mouth biting the hand
That frees you.
I sit quietly
In the luggage department
With your emotional baggage
On my lap
And wait for it to bury me.
There are still those
Who are curious to feel
A foreign pulse
In the cage of their body.
I’m not sure if I could teach this
But one way to try
Is by losing yourself so completely
You could be anyone.

BIO: I’m a 5’1″ sixteen year old with no muscles, but I’m still as scary as I sound. I’m also really nice, I promise.

2nd Place

‘Empty Quivers’
Matt Rouse

There is too much light
On this orange county evening
And not enough stars in the sky
I can see the three belt loops
On the tunic of Orion
But I cannot see his bow
His arrows have disintegrated
Inside the cones of phosphorescence
Rising from the Wal-mart on the corner

The endless procession of headlamps
Snaking its way now interstate 5
Have lulled the hunter’s dogs to sleep
And now the Lepus Hare
Runs amok in the heavens
Propagating and overpopulating
The solar systems and galaxies
until they’ve thrown off the eco-balance

They’ve eaten all the space dust
On the outer rim of the Rigal system
Ripped gapping holes
In the asteroid belts of Betelguse
Nibbled the nitrogen
Out of the atmospheres
Of all the class M planets
In the tadpole Galaxy

So someone has decided
To unlock the cage of the lion
They have let Leo loose
He tracks down the offenders
And for a moment order is restored
But lions are predators
And bunnies make small meals

Leo lunges at Aires
Clamps his jaws over its throat
And rips out its larynx
Then swipes at its stomach
With sharp serrated claws
Until the ram lies
Filleted across space
A nebula of pierced organs
And bloody entrails
The exposed broken bones
Of its ribcage glisten
In lunar repose
Like quasars newly born

Leo murders Cassiopeia in her sleep
And spits the crown out
At poor Andromeda
He tears the wings
Off of Pegasus
And swallows Scorpio whole
Though I imagine
He won’t do something like that again
The indigestion is almost intolerable
He even ate one of the twins
Now castor stands alone
Slumped over in sickened grief
Gemini is just me and I now

But he should not have killed Ursa Minor
Now he’s got a major problem
As the big bear tracks him
Up and down the universe
It is all a celestial
Public relations nightmare
Space is now plagued by starlight flight
As the signs of the zodiac
Slip into other dimensions
The black holes form quickly
And collide
Can you hear them

PING

All this occurs as I look up
At a washed out nightscape
There is too much light in my city
And not enough stars in the sky

BIO: Matt Rouse lives in Orange County where he writes and practices controlled burns at poetry readings. He has been published online at culturedvultures.com and won numerous spoken word competitions.

1st Place

‘Said the Artist to the Gun’
Torrin Greathouse

The first time I met you I was four years old,
thought you were thunder, or the wind fist-fighting trees,
or the sound of my father’s voice.
I never saw that bullet dig a grave for itself in the chestnut armoire
six inches to the left of my head.
I didn’t understand why my mother was crying
or my father was drunk.
I found out six years later he was clearing your throat
and forgot to check the chamber.
The first time we met, you tried to kill me.

But children—and alcoholics—forgive so easily,
especially when it’s family.
You and me, we share so much common ancestry
we’re practically cousins.
There’s been a bullet wrapped around
my grandfather’s neck since he was 22 and started feeling homesick
for firefights, he hid it inside a crucifix
because warfare had become the only thing he had faith left in.
My father hung up his boots before I was born,
but upturned whiskey bottles to empty them out like all of the boys
you empty out, ’cause he missed the burn of tear gas
and kept trying to recapture it.
So you understand, there are blood ties between you and I.
You are the lead embedded in my family tree.

And when I was eleven my father tried to teach me to use you,
like he never did with bikes or baseballs
or anything a father should,
but I was never much good with you,
not like my brother, and again I was a disappointment.
It was the last time my father and I really talked.

But when I was fifteen,
he tried to kill himself with you.
He spent a month in the suicide ward, called me from there
on my birthday. I haven’t seen him in six years,
are you still there reminding him?

Then, when I was sixteen my best friend
tried to end his life with you,
spent six months in a suicide ward.
Now he’s going to school to make movies about people
who want to kill themselves.
He Skypes his father on base in Iraq
and he couldn’t be prouder.

When I was 19 you wore a badge and blue,
took more lives than I can count.
Spat copper coated death like an outdated commodity,
your open mouth blinder than a justice
that only sees black or white.
we spent that year scared, counting
black men’s gravestones, mad men’s gravestones,
children buried for the color of their skin, or the pills
they couldn’t afford to take.
We’re still fucking counting.

And when I was 20 you arched the metal of your back
into the wrong hands, left seven
in Santa Barbara dead,
one of them was my lover’s best friend.
And she would hate me for using the word “was.”
She still speaks about her in the present tense.
She refuses to forget.

Then, when I turned 21 you turned my brother’s hands
into weapons and held them tightly
while you lead him off to war.
I’m hoping you don’t leave another bullet hole
in my family tree.

Your greedy mouth has swallowed too many innocent bodies whole.
We have all been counting gravestones to sleep
for far too long.

So a week ago, when someone asked me about my stance
on gun control, my mouth went mute,
I couldn’t force anything out.

Now that I think about it,
I wish that you
could say the same.

BIO: Torrin A. Greathouse is a Literary Journalism student and governing member of the Uncultivated Rabbits spoken word collective at UC Irvine. They were the 2015 winner of the Orange County Poetry Slam. Torrin’s work has been published in several publications including Cultured Vultures,Rust + Moth, Chiron Review, Crack the Spine, and The Metaworker, and one chapbook “Cosmic Taxi Driver Blues.” They are currently employed as the executive assistant of a sustainable lighting firm. Their previous jobs include security guard, farm hand, antique store clerk and tattoo artist.

Cultured Vultures Poem of the Week

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