Shirts or Skins, a 2014 poetry chapbook by Jim Redmond

Latter Days

After high school there weren’t any jobs.
So we took to burning mailboxes, entire
newsstands, an old Buick Skylark
finally lit up like the true American god
it was meant to be.

What had started out as a matchbox
and the collected works of Anne Sexton—
one of the poets we will never get to
even now, because every time we try
we think of fire, that match, those pages,
the backseat of a school bus
when we were 12 … Anne Sexton,
her name like a district burned over
in the fat of our minds as the bus driver
pulled off to the side of the road.

And when you’re as young and stupid
as we were everything is a fire waiting
to happen, and your brain is a bottle
of whiskey tucked tight between
your thighs, in a brown paper sack,
as you pass a patrol car;

drunk on your own bad thinking
and the bad thinking of friends
burning you all the way home
to a family cut down to canned goods
and cigarette butts. The slow hum
of a ceiling fan measures itself
as the day’s only wager.
Here, the center of the world
is your father’s heavy wrist, without
a single task or blame before it.


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