Poetry from Brian Rihlmann


I’ve been stuck here awhile

counting the growth rings

on the redwoods he’s hauling
it’s not his fault but I hate him anyway

as I clench my teeth

and squeeze the wheel 
it ain’t just me

you’re slowing down, pal

it’s the way time screeches by

like your brakes

around every downhill curve
finally, the turnout

he eases the big rig in there

and I gun it, sail past

with a honk and a wave
he’s my new best friend my hero

he’s just pulled me

from quicksand
the moments tick by again

a blur like tree trunks

out my window
the moments that stand

between me

and dirt or ashes
and suddenly I wonder

if the favor’s really a favor 
but no matter

I think I see an RV up around the bend
I sigh and slump in my seat

as I settle in for the slow ride

behind my new savior

a bicycle hangs from the back

of this behemoth on wheels

its front tire rotates

ever so slowly 
there’s a lesson here

but I’ll never learn it
you’d have to be old

as old growth to learn that


Nan always worried about me being alone—when she still lived in Florida she tried fixing me up

with a young nurse

at her doctor’s office 

showed her my picture

gave her my email address 
(never mind the couple thousand miles

between us…)
poor old woman—she actually thought

I’d be a great catch

for some pretty young thing
she died believing that
now I see

what a shame it is

to not have her around

to believe such a thing
to have one less soul

out in the world

so deluded about me

his name was Rob

“like, to steal”

as he used to joke

and he gave me my first ever snort

and taste of the crystal

in his single wide up in Sun Valley

“Felony Flats” or “Scum Valley”

as we locals call it
it didn’t feel

like anything had been stolen

more as if he’d handed me a key

to unlock a door

I’d never known

could be opened
as we drove to the store for more beer

I swore I could move the stars

the city lights

like chess pieces
where had this ability

been hiding?
some time later

after three days and nights of nonstop partying 

I saw my face in the mirror

after a darkand dehydrated piss
there was definitely something missing

besides about ten pounds of meat from my bones
but from the living room

my new friends

called to me that the pipe was filled

and was I gonna hit this shit

or not?

I turned from my reflection and went out

with a clenched smile

heart racing

fingertips eager to burn

on the blackened hot glass


today I say to myself now is now
it is not tomorrow 
or yesterday 
or even five minutes ago
with that stranger’s eyes
staring through me
and this is obvious—
so obvious 
we need reminding of it
like we do
that the earth is below
and the sky above
that the ocean is to the west
and to the east too
and the fire is everywhere 
like a worm of sunshine
crawling through the dark tunnels
of our veins
the shielded chambers
of our hearts


as you run the maze
and gobble up all you can 
invariably, you’ll zig
when you should’ve zagged 

you’ll know it
the instant you turn the corner
as the ghosts close in
to end your brief existence 

it’s easy to forget about them
when you’ve got your eye
on the colorful, shiny fruit

but they’re always closer
and close in faster
than you think

could have
and should have—
why place these nooses
around your own neck?

it’s just a game…
everyone loses eventually 

so don’t kick the machine 
too hard
you’ll get thrown
out of the arcade