The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Steven Ostrowski

Skeleton Blood Memoir with Bob

Port Richmond got too small;
too hindsight-driven, way passed tense.
They converted stop signs into funerals
and juke boxes into arrest warrants.
Dirge clouds gathered all summer
over the girders of the Bayonne Bridge.

And me ancient and seventeen

and him spitting out those daggersongs.


Held-in smoke and dark-eyed friends,
him on the 33 launching lines from Mercury,
preferring the other side of everything.
Mirror ballads, pinstripe blues,
Railroad drunk dog wail songs.
I can still hear that wavy oxygen sound
spilling across the room,
flooding into my broke-open brain.


I smoked the chords, too.


Not one of the girls in that town got him.
“He’s too         .”
They had assets but not the ear
for Shakespeare’s orphan.
If they’d have gotten him, they’d have gotten me
inside out and up the wazoo;
we’d have been kid-faced lovers
infamous on Richmond Avenue
for our iron-singed eyes
and lyric-smeared smiles.


And it doesn’t leave you, ever.
Leaves tracks that harp in your blood.
Leaves you spastic balletic, moonful in your poems,
howl-round in the bedroom, a little lonely in the eye sockets
but approaching mystic. His ghost songs,
even fifty years down the highway,
shiver like the last hotel in the hurricane.


Back then, world said: be this.
I said: fuck you. I had his records in my cells, all
the curves and edges. Sulfur gaze
hard as Duluth.
I said: your song’s used up. I’ve got
a whalebone-inlaid xylophone
and ten words that rhyme with it.


He didn’t teach me everything.
Why would I even want that?


Be true to your pulse,
keep the hammer headed south,
stay amused,
polish your boots,

don’t explain,

and thank you for coming.




STEVEN OSTROWSKI is a poet, fiction writer and songwriter. His work is widely published in literary journals and anthologies. He has also published three chapbooks--two of poems and one of stories. A fourth chapbook, a collaboration with his son, Ben Ostrowski, will be published by Cervena Barva Press in 2017.



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