Issue > Poetry
Justin Skylar Belote

Justin Skylar Belote

Justin Belote currently lives in Seattle. He began writing poetry two years ago. He will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall to pursue his M.F.A. in creative writing. He hopes to become a professor and share the amazing gift of poetry and writing with students and whoever else is interested. He would like to thank you for reading The Cortland Review and his poetry.

Elegy With No One Speaking

Now that all the wasps are gone
and the hive is a silent town,
I can sleep out under this elm again.


I would like to explain how a house
someone has just been found hanging in
becomes different, as if the rooms widen and gape
yet hold less air.  Outside
the gardenias darken in late afternoon
and sag in the rain.  The light
landing on their petals is somehow unlike the light that lands
on the dead, but I don't know why.
And above the white flowers a spider
can continue breathing quietly
and never know the difference.
its web, strung in a dogwood, waits for flies.


In 1981 my parents graduated from college.
Everything on the east coast
seemed quieter and heavier and naked.  
All through August it was ninety and raining and I think
if my father had then stood perfectly still
before a tunnel full of wet leaves
and looked far into that darkness, he would never speak
again. But what I need to know is
when I'm fifty, will I remember how it felt
to be twenty-three and lonely in Boston?
Will I think of that park bench
and how all summer I counted the lights going out
in the apartments that surrounded me.  The Charles
river to my back, dark and blind.


And, now, in this kitchen with its white curtains
and sink I watch an ant crawl on the table,
then up the window, and all I can be certain of is that
if I lean close enough to anything and close my eyes,
I can smell the dead. By winter
the snow will quiet everything
and teeth will blacken in their skulls
like mirrors that reflect the night.  A night
that nobody owns, where the stars are a voiceless
closet that I could walk into thirty years from now,
folding a hanger carefully, and never walk out of.
And if you were to find me then
and turn and leave without ever looking up,
you would not notice the sky
and the black hole that opened and yawned over everything
as if it is a cold house that even silence
cannot escape.

The Origin Of Water

One summer in Oakland a moth drowned
In a glass of water and no one looked up.
An old man in the next booth continued reading the
Of people he did not know, and he read them out loud
And loudly to the empty seat across from him,
Pausing, every now and then, to take a sip of black
Coffee and shrug.  And I wondered how
This was comforting.  And I wondered at what
Did the moth's wings turn into wet paper
And fill with poetry written In a language foreign
To everyone.  And I wondered if that moth
Were to have instead flown to close to a candle
And caught the flame and turn to ash in the air,
Would it then have been more worthy,
More noticeable.  Would the four gamblers
Who sat hunched and ignorable in the corner,
Who had spent their entire lives rubbing the numbers
Off their cards with their forefingers and thumbs,
Even bothered to look up then,
As the ashes drifted by in the light?
Or would they have mistaken it for dust
or think it was from their cigarettes?  Or maybe the
Superstitious one would have taken it as a sign and
    gone all in
In the next round and lost everything.  But no,
The moth drowned and nothing happened,
A mother continued sewing
The sleep of her stillborn into every shirt
She owned, a man searched for change in his pockets
To buy food , and a mechanic with dark hands
Began to doze at the counter while he waited for his
And who knows what he was dreaming of then.


I don't know why, but if this were my poem, oranges
    in a Californian valley would be eaten all night by
Until all that remains is a few inches of peel
And the breath of those crows. And nearby, an old  
Abandoned to the wind would look like dried bones
And the vines growing up though the metal
Would recede back into some childhood
Where blossoms vanish back into buds and the buds

Vanish back into branches
And the branches, back into seeds, blackening
As if they are related to night.  Above everything
The sky would look like a dirty moth wing, heavy
And low with rain. And would look
As though it could almost speak. And if it did speak
It would be with a sadness that was large
And unknowable like the origin of water
Or like the august I sat and watched deserted ships
And sink further into the sea,
Until I no longer could name
What was left of them.


And now I could tell you about the dehydrated lizard
    tongue I once found while walking down a sidewalk
    in Missouri.  
Or about rain and how lonely it must feel, always Drowning the earth.  How birds
fly backwards into their silence and how some windows only open to dead air and the smell of
    California burning.

But I would like to say a man reads the obituaries
To understand the dreams of others or, maybe, its less Complicated than that, maybe its only to see who he's
So he can go home and pat himself on the shoulder
    and make a sandwich and sit down alone.
And that night, when he goes to sleep, he will still be alone
In a cold bed with the moon falling over it.
And all I wonder now is how many worlds are behind his eyes
And which one will he travel too.


MRB Chelko

MRB Chelko
Ode to June


Marcus Civin

Marcus Civin


Abayomi Animashaun

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Beggar's Colony'