“like like like” by Joel Best

“like like like”

beyond the spirit village
beyond every lonely ghost
a ribbon of lake
like a giant child worked a toy shovel
like the child dug a furrow
like the child filled the furrow with ink
like like like
say the word too many times
it sounds wrong
forget like
say the lake is black
that works

the murderous rain
hammering from above
we huddle in tiny shacks
made of dripping bark
the trees by this lake have died
murdered by bleak winds
we settle in
let the weather do its worst
we make horns at the sky

was that you singing in the night I ask a man
who will not speak his own name
will not say why
obviously there is a reason
such a lovely song I tell him
soulful and comforting
its resonance rose above the storm
which is no small trick
not me the man says
can’t carry a tune in a bucket
he seems ashamed for the admission
for reasons unknown

my home by the lake
shack by a large gray stone
the stone seems to have a face
maybe someone I once knew
or perhaps a stranger
the shack and its earthen floor
once uneven
impossible to sleep upon
until I stamped the dirt flat

the man who won’t say his name
what he wants to talk about
late in the damp night
is a wife left behind
when angels spoke
telling him to abandon the old life
and search
for the new
the angels who whispered to everyone here by the lake
we know the sound of those voices
like broken glass in a cardboard box
like like like

by the light of the evening fire
the wood laced with chemical deposits
we are two people by a lake
each with a story to tell
maybe if there were wine
the stories might be easier to hear
the fire burns purple and green
moths throw themselves into the flames
abstracts swell in our vision

the man describes his wife crying at the end
how it tore him apart
he never would have left
if not for the angels
their commands
you cannot ignore the sound of an angel’s voice
it is quite unfair
what did I do to deserve this he asks
though of course there is no answer
and there is another by the lake
she has asked herself
the same question

the final hours with my husband
are too difficult to recall
I’ve lost track of the details
like a hole has yawned in my thoughts
it’s an unhealthy way to live
like the burning moths
like like like
some lifeforms are destined by nature
to self-destruct

by Joel Best

Editor’s Note: At first this poem reads like a celebration of solitude and weather, but then the narrative winds down into itself and the last two lines drive home the true nature of this beast.

Faulty Wiring by Joel Best

Faulty Wiring

There was a house
Near the playground
Where my son played
When he was very young
All the afternoons
As he worked in the sandbox
I watched him
And also watched the house
From the corner of my eye
Without intention
I memorized the house
Sagging roof
Peeling clapboard
Cracked front window
The same way I memorized
The movements of my son
How he shaped the sand
Creating mountains
Carving valleys
This tiny god-creature
Deft of hand
He and the house
Two entities vying
For space in my thoughts
Many years later
I’ve forgotten much about my son
Things no father should ever forget
You try to hold on
Each small piece slips away
Fades from recollection
The lovely god who was
And now no longer
While the house
The damned house
That never meant anything to me
Remains in perfect focus

by Joel Best

Editor’s Note: Memory is so frustratingly fickle. This poem uses simple imagery to convey the passage of years—a reader is almost lulled into complacency until you realize the title and the end of the poem neatly tie into the description of the disintegrating house.

“packing for the afterlife” by Joel Best

“packing for the afterlife”

my husband and i had suitcases ready
for when the angels spoke
and we walked to heaven
we left the suitcases by the front door
of the house that had for years
been home
my husband’s suitcase was sturdy green canvas
mine was sturdy brown
we bought them before the prices went crazy
before the angels found their collective voice
and whispered with such intensity
to the masses
we filled the suitcases with everything necessary
to walk so far and high
extra socks and underwear
canned food and bottled water
vitamins and aspirin
paperback books
matches and hunting knives
coiled rope to scale the cliffs outside the pearly gates
my husband wanted to take along a gun
but i said no
one time in twenty a gun may save your life
which leaves the other nineteen
and in any event
we had no need for self-defense
in heaven
where only the angels
are armed

by Joel Best

Editor’s Note: The surreality of this poem gives it a sense of both purpose and the feeling of life slipping away. It seems the afterlife is just as edgy as life; why else would we need armed angels?