The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Daniel Lawless

Central State Hospital Visit, October, 1962


You and I, big sister, giggling, in your room, a Saturday, my eighth birthday.
On the crocheted bedspread between us a new box of 64 Crayolas
And a Seek and Find book opened
To “Musical Instruments” —a Christmas scene for some reason
Full of hidden cellos and tubas,
Santa with a tiny saxophone entangled in his beard peeking up
Between two snare drum barrels at candy cane piccolos.
“A world to be unmasked,“ you murmur sotto voce —a term
I can’t know yet – scribbled
Mountain Meadow, Scarlet, Burnt Sienna, Denim.

In two months though of course I can’t know this
Yet either, you’ll be a perpetual motion smoking machine

Dressed in a body, dazed and amped to the hair-ends

Thanks to Haldol, thin in a thin
Bath-robe with an adhesive taped pocket labeled “Maureen.”
Dusk falling, and your birthday now, as in “Birthday” —curls of green ribbon,

Boxes with new sweaters and mittens, a coconut cake
With jimmies and sixteen candles.
Each item discovered and colored in with a glance but missing the theme.

…Or was it “Terror” —whispered only to you?
Your brow furrowing, your gaze lifted beyond us hardened
Into a squint
As at a blank page, another hot-boxed Salem a crayon
Firing here and here every dull stone, fallen leaf or high star
It found there,
Flame Red Flame Red Flame Red its furious tip.

Daniel Lawless

The Memory of My Memory is My Memory


We ran our trap lines according to Hoyle,
And forgot about them.
Set the goldfish on the table.
Back and forth you watched them swim
With that determined, frightened look,
Before we forgot about them, too.
We were dancing on the head of a pin.
The prairie was our ballroom.
Then a parking lot in Cupertino
Outside some kind of all-night dentist.
The next thing I knew we were up in the hills,
Staring at a double-wide with a busted door
And a mailbox that looked like it would choke
On a piece of good news.
From the shadow of a shriveled up orange tree
I watched you watch me watch you
Swaying ever so slightly on the left-behind swing set
As if one of us was already a ghost.
Which would have been fine, except we weren’t yet.
We still had voices to yell with, and hands to shove with,
Not to mention our terrible smiles –
That time you prepared your famous salad nicoise
With eggs from the neighbor’s coop
And lettuce and carrots with dirt still on them,
The bicycles that appeared out of nowhere!
How long it all seemed to take.
So that it wasn’t exactly a disappointment
When one of us actually disappeared.
I remember the knife, the 12 inch tv sailing across the porch
Like a rat with a long thin tail
Followed by the black cat you’d taken in.
And the racket — as if you were hammering out a good-bye letter
With your fists against the walls.
At dawn, when I crept out to look,
Your footprints in the dew-soaked grass
Made a line like an exclamation mark
With a ball of wadded up panties for a period.


Daniel Lawless

How to Drive  (Pissed)

Assuming you’ve sprung the keys from your purse
Or twigged where you tossed them like a fistful
Of silver cilantro in the cazuela on the credenza,
And started it up, and further assuming
Your day has been de mierda
Place two hands on the wheel
Like the shoulders of that punk-ass Bob in layout
You’re finally going to give
A good god-damn shake to. Hunch up your back
And get all up in that invisible grill. Mouth white-girl muthafuckers
Like pre-dead Tupac to it as you get text-back
From your kid on his curfew, Cunt if you want
When you brake big-time and a Big Mac
Slides through your fingers onto your Starters.
Find some pop on the radio: Pusha T is already pissed
Enough for ten of you so maybe you need to think backwards.
One Direction is good, The Bird and The Bee even better --
Why, oh, why do the bees need a beekeeper, that kind of shit
Meant to mellow your harsh will pop a large in the ass of your amygdala.
Traffic? Crawl up that Mary Kay’s trunk and sit there
Until you can count the grey hairs of her junk backwards then fix her
With a Kol-stare when you finally pass her that rips the pink from her Caddie.
Flick the bird at the guy at the stoplight flicking snot from his finger.
Caution is your go-to, right? But he’s fucked you
Over with some skinny ho from Hot Topic, called you out on your bullshit
In front of your bro’s. So put the Vietnam Vet in your rear-view
Along with his Dixie and teach him a real history lesson.
Van Diesel it over the speed bumps.
Crow-fly to your ex’s as if mad sex is
A huge magnet that pulls you through STOP signs and
Three lanes of assholes sipping lattes.
Pretend your Fit is a Humvee and the Jag with black windows
A credible target as you introduce Lance Armstrong there
To Pavement, and while you’re at it
Slice the homeless hag on the corner
A big piece of shame-cake.
Blow through the light, the lot full of tots, the wreck
Of your life that is the emergency lane wide open
And fluorescent to the off-ramp, a freeway
With no toll booths, the thin back of a Lyssa
Crusted with nails like the hide of a monster just like you.




DANIEL LAWLESS's book, The Gun My Sister Killed Herself With and Other Poems, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry, February 2018. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Asheville Review, Cortland Review, B O D Y, The Common, FIELD, Fulcrum, The Louisville Review, Manhattan Review, Numero Cinq, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and other journals. He is the founder and editor of Plume: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry.



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