From Maps for Jackie
Jason Labbe

Map into (White Trees at the Edge of) Possible Valley

days of rain project
ennui in morning
can’t explain to me
mist and gray I project

into lowest June’s
Possible Valley
fog and wood smoke
vivid heaps of white

leaves give the far side
of these eighteen acres
a black horse grazing
in drizzle and dim light

white leaf is like a moth
wing I’d fix to her shoulder
what breath is absent
from the air and the dust

Postcard from the Periphery

That vintage beach
has its golden eye on you,
that sunset is full of ridicule.

But there is nothing to interpret
on the Shore of the Periphery, black and white
one day, color another—

She writes illegibly, she writes
nothing, it’s printed and in cursive,
neither pen nor pencil.


The subject of the postcard
is Horizon, the subject
is History. The abstractions

where family and weather intersect.
The gradations of gray suggesting
shadow suggesting color

drive home your limits, the drama
mocks you from just beyond
your boundaries—a hologram,

you hang it between a toilet
full of Comet and every exotic fringe
she will not permit you.

You hang it on the fridge
with a magnet shaped like a tornado,
you tape it to the window, visible

from every room in which you shift
your weight from one foot to the other.
One foot to the other.


It keeps you safe.
If you tried to crease it
your arm would fracture,

if you tried to tear it
your heart would break.
Hold a match to it

and it will not catch.
In black marker
scribble out the shore,

and the shore will appear
a desert before returning
to a beach. Her message listens

to you sleep, her message
is mist over a wave
you can neither decipher nor erase.


What souvenir birds
she does not bring from
Pigeon Point, Praia do Sancho, Bottom Bay.

You strain to follow
the artificial light
neither gull nor vulture

shines down. Which is
above your house.


Jackie traveled time and space
and all I got
was this crummy T-shirt.

Wear it till the neck frays
and the pink palm tree
flakes away.

It takes a willing figure
to intersect
the daunting line

drawn between land and sky—
Be the distant silhouette
that suggests

the shifting of the light.
You were almost
airbrushed out.


Waking finds
morning the inmost warp
in spacetime—

I host from the distance
I need to recognize
you ghosting

my chest cavity.
I don’t need a bottle
bedside to tell me: empty.

A mountain: one slice of
dry toast, two cups of black tea.
To chase a truer seam

between rock and stream—
demanded abandoning

your colder ocean.

The Atheist’s Piano

A small brown body slumped
against a wall
is just a clump of wet leaves. Light

changes from rain to heat wave, clouds
gathering over the skyline and burning off.
Bodies fly through this.

A flash in a bare branch or barred window
obscures the sound of airplanes,
but one’s belief goes on, only

somewhere else, left behind
like directions scrawled in black marker
on the back of a diner placemat

the first rainy night I drove to Queens
to listen to you play. I am allowed
my past in that apartment, at least

my version of it, the radiator steam
that continues to disperse
and will, eventually, burn off

of so much else. The arguments
in young Spanish that came through
the wall are, by now,

only a stranger’s vague resentment
that lingers like the ache in my neck
because I could never stop tracking jets

descending over the island.
Always up to pitch, the piano in the corner.
The proselytizing tuner would never admit

that the blemishes—the cigarette burn,
a ring from a sweating bottle—were the reason
your upright boomed like a grand.

A rationalist and a ray of light sit at a bar.
The rationalist says to the ray of light,
I can’t go on like this.

The ray of light’s reply is so blinding
that everyone leaves
their half-empty glasses and disappears

into the street. One holy land
abandoned for the promise of another.
I’m going to line my tires with money.

The day the air goes out and the sky
opens with lightning and dark rain, I will
spend it all on you if you let me

tell you, now five years and two boroughs later,
my recurring dream where we ride
the subway over a new and freezing

bridge. I ask to warm my hands
in your giant fur hat, I put in my left earbud
and give you the right, then

everything goes black. The instant our train
crosses from tunnel blackness
into nightlight, music comes to us.

Jason Labbe is the author of two chapbooks, Dear Photographer (Phylum Press) and Blackwash Canal (H_NGM_N BKS), as well as poems appearing in A Public Space, Poetry, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Handsome, American Letters & Commentary, and Conjunctions. He directs the experimental music collective Snake Oil and curates readings for Intercambio in New Haven.