Poetry from John Tustin


Eyes of ice,
hair of flames –
yet I burn when you look at me,
I freeze when I touch you.

I want to be the last man to make you cry.
My arms can be a cradle.
I want to be the only man
to stay another night.

Eyes of ice,
hair of flames –
I stare into you and you crack;
I run my hands through all that cold fire.


She put the flowers in a chain
But she never wore them
As a necklace or a crown. 
She kept the flower chain in a locked drawer
Below a book of Poe given by a dandelion,
Beside an engraved corkscrew given by a mangrove flower,
On top of a stack of poems written by this moon flower.

One flower rarely touched another
And when one accidentally did 
In her shut drawer
She just denied the existence of the other flower
As a whisper in the dark.

She put the flowers in a chain,
Never wearing them
As a necklace or a crown
But hiding them in a drawer
Away from the light. 
Removing them one at a time
To wear behind her ear
In the dark
Before the mirror,

Feeling at once sad and powerful,
Sexy and unfulfilled,
Needed but alone.


The wind came up along the rain
And whipped around the house
As I waited for something to happen
But nothing happened.
Just rain and wind
And music and laundry
And the alarm clock
That will remind me.

You were born in the memory of the poverty of earthquakes
And the wreckage of civil wars
While I was born into a little house on a dead end street
Where the trees were sick and yellow
But we could play roller hockey in the street without defense.
Along the way we found the same music
And we found the same empathy, then
When we met a seed was planted.
Neither of us went to the prom, both of us lived our lives
Riding the subway to the MidManhattan Library
And now here we are, as far apart
As the day you were bitten by a rat in your crib
While I learned about dinosaurs in Kindergarten class,
Where I met Michael Blair and Marc Gonzalez.

If only we had met while staring at the same painting
In an art gallery during your time in college
As I toiled unloading trucks and ordering sundries.
Maybe this would be different. 
Maybe our bodies would still be beside one another.
Maybe we would be hearing the same song
While I made the meatballs and you boiled the spaghetti
And added to the gravy.
Huh. Maybe.
But this is what is.

The wind dies down,
Drowned out by the sputter of the washing machine
And the music always playing
In this room that is otherwise silent but for my sighs
And my swears.
Now there is a violin and an accordion here
While your home is filled with anything or nothing at all.

You are just a little horse in a small stable,
Unaware of the magic you are capable.
And I am just a little horse in the wild,
Pretending to be a thoroughbred,
Kicking around this little hostel in the middle of nowhere.
Neither of us will ever run free
Or find one another again
And so be it.
Let it be so.

My brother used to tell me that God is just a magnet in the sky
And that makes as much sense as anything.
If my heart was a compass it would point to you
As True North
As I move toward there

But never arrive
In this life
Or likely any other.

We are both born in the mud of slaves
And slaves we remain
In this life.
May there be another lifetime where we are us
And free
With the sharp rocks still under our feet
As we refrain from complaint.

God is just a magnet in the sky.
I’ve yet to see a better argument why or why not.


I look up from where I am sitting
At the booth in the back
And you have already come in and sat down
At the counter unnoticed,
Sitting and staring and typing into your phone,
Your little pale feet in sandals and curled up a little
Under the stool.
I put my glasses on so I can watch you
Without you noticing me from my perfect angle
In the booth. 

I can hardly see your face but you look good everywhere else
With your shoulder length blonde hair, staring straight down
At your phone, occasionally typing but never looking up.
Stout body, about 30 lbs. overweight – but aren’t we all?
About my age and growing old – but aren’t we all?
You frown into your phone until the waitress comes.
I keep watching you. I can hardly see your face.

You give the waitress a smile as you order. A pained smile
Of politeness, that grin that is close to the baring of a predator’s teeth.

My food arrives and I watch you as I eat it.
You can’t see me or feel I am watching. I am insignificant.
I cannot hurt you and maybe I can help you but we’ll never know.
You won’t turn around and look at me and I would be afraid if you did.
Your food comes and you eat without joy, in a hurry,
Sucking the orange juice into your mouth through a straw.
Still you look down at your phone and frown and type.
Is your husband a bastard? Are your kids not coming home for Christmas?
Is your job asking you to work today?
Is your mother dying?
Maybe you just frown all day. Are you in misery?
Are you a carrier of misery? 
So many of us are both.

I watch you and sip my coffee,
Imagining your naked body under that ghastly Christmas sweater,
The soft gentle roll of fat on your belly you cannot remove
No matter how hard you try
And I would not hesitate to put my hands upon,
Standing behind you in the bathroom as you are topless
In just your panties, combing your hair in the mirror.

I finish my food, finish my coffee, refuse a refill.
I get up, leave the tip, walk right past you
And you do not notice me. Your mannerisms do not change.
I pay at the cashier and turn around to finally see your face
And you are still looking down, concentrating,
Done shoveling the food in without an ounce of pleasure.
I still can’t really see your face. I turn around, get to the door,
Walk out into the late morning sun,
Imagining you are beautiful but sad,
The way I imagine I am,
Will continue to be.


I bought your book 
because of the picture of you
on the back cover.

I looked into your eyes.
I felt your body all along mine
as my heart flip-flopped in its cage.

I want to luxuriate in your presence 
while you write poems of taffeta 
and poems of steel.
Sewn by you,
forged by you.

What kind of dazzling words await me
between the pages
of your book?
How deeply will I fall?

Your book is sleeping now
on my bedside table.
I give it a nudge
and it opens to the first page
but I’m afraid to read it,

knowing that you cannot be
the you I am so certain you are.

I close the book.
I don’t want it ruined just yet.

Perhaps tomorrow my curiosity will overtake
my fear
and I can destroy it all then.