Bad Survivalist: Three Poems by Ryan Clinesmith

Bad Survivalist: Ryan Clinesmith



An apocalypse is an enzyme of separation,
salt turned sugar, apples oxidizing, blue death,
survival as the catalyst to enjoying sunsets,
closing your eyes in a Mecca-crowd,
a 42nd-St-New-Year’s-Eve crowd,
closing your eyes only after looking around
to see you are the crowd

or it’s the time, a block before we got back to the gym
after a basketball game, our van stopped,
a teammate shouted “Gun!”
the cops ran after a man flailing a weapon,

I ducked.

It could have started when DNA met RNA
in some muck-bound single cell
exploding potential like that gunshot,
or the laugh at my fetal pose from teammates,

“That’s every other night bro,”
my point guard said. The apocalypse
could have started anywhere, anytime, who’s to say?
Really, the apocalypse is just unmasking
all I really want is to tell secrets,
like I finally told the principal I was the one

drawing you-know-whats in bathroom stalls,
veins and all. And won’t it be more peaceful?
Quieter, we’ll see the stars, taste thick wet air
and watch green re-form without invasive mold.


The apocalypse is the removal of a mask;
how a dog that’s both coyote and mutt
will either be feared or eaten.

It’s the smell of festering lilies
which make weeds acceptable,
the raven leading wolves to prey,

the grub burrowing deeper in winter to spring in June.
It’s the fallen leaves,
and algae seen from outer space,

or Saharan dust that seeds Amazonian organisms.
It’s all around us,
within us.
It’s a handshake at a rally,

or the sterile smell of hospitals.
Some apocalypses are more obvious than others.
It’s certain ones we ignore

like those removed from mother
instead of birthed,
how they’re more likely to be sickly—

not having the benefit of microbiome.

It’s a beautiful thing, the apocalypse
like evaporating dew,
the ending and beginning smell of it.


On the street, in red, white and blue chalk:
it’s a beautiful day 11-07-20.
Many people died that Saturday

and the city erupted in celebration. —

Pots and pans, honk-fors, guttural yelps,
as if encouraging her dad’s rising soul,
or to mock her sadness with the joy
of trading one bad man for another politician.

“I got up, took a shower, was like …
‘They’re playing the Final Countdown’
then I got mom’s call, my phone
had been on silent, and I was like,

‘A fuckin WWDD moment.’”


The old ladies, who’ve been standing
on 102nd st for days with signs
held up to traffic in silence, get their honks

and’re shouting, maybe gloating,

when a day before it rained
and no one came out to protest,
after days of standing with signs
that read Honk for …, —nothing
as it rained, as bits of bird

ingrained into asphalt, —
pink chunk washed away,
as if the absence of protest was the protest,

meant to prove that in the wasteland
a swallow will still turn
against the wind where trees lie bare.
People are so in need of help.

They chant, “Don’t. Come. Back.”


We hear them and do not hear them
as she says, “Honey,
you can come in if you want”

with her mother and aunt to the funeral home
to make long overdue arrangements.
College students in Washington Sq Park
leap up and down like fish emerging from their school.

How many more grieve surrounded by celebration?
“These memories are like his presence,” she says.


Water in Mexico full of rainbow fish
cuddling their calves, she would “cling” to him
when he went in the water,
“He’d even let it happen when I was older.

Just yesterday, I read to him from a binder
of fake news clippings, one of his friends
put it together, we laughed at them,
—he laughed. It’s like he’s here,” she says.

How’s that feel?

“Like he’s speaking to me through memory.”

Hit the road jack plays outside in rhythm
with chants of “Don’t. Come. Back.”
which fades into wailing,
then more chants of “Don’t. Come. Back.”

We visit the apartment where the night before
her dad collapsed and crawled
from bathroom tile toward the bedroom
where now she sobs, and still they chant,
“Don’t. Come. Back.”

Her mother says, “They’re sick,”
we eat baked ziti. Family “Can’t fly …”
into what seems a doomsday party,

into what we know is coincidence,
words from above, memories
hour by hour becoming loved.


What I got from Terminus:
don’t go fully behind the veil;
leave a toe on the other side;
act with routine and practice
so favors don’t uproot measure;
be a reproduced statue
with a single imperfection;
foster a love for camping
and the Spartan way of life;
be a star gone out and still
speaking to us at night,
as if a toad just finished
its change from axolotl;
or better yet be the axolotl
crawling beneath muck
to save its stasis from filth;
let me come to you, drenched
in time, delaying just a moment
to get a last look
before you go, like a toe
on the other side, or star
still bright in death, an egg
falling from nest as it hatches.

Epilogue to Paradise


Entire seasons in a moment; dew, sun, snow
could half explain the way I miss you.
Cars, kids and newspapers going out

like you’ve gone and somehow stayed
in our apartment, your Car Talk mug,
the box of Oatmeal you bought.

Your paper arrived, it says 

Christians are gathering to mark foreheads
with ash and antiseptic dotted on
their fingers each time before repentance;

men are fighting to touch a rabbi’s
long dead corpse while the world watches
and asks, “Where do we go from here?”

and I ask them, “Who was the one
who held her hand in the hospital
while I watched her die in this iPad?”

The paper says; lung disease, monoclonal
antibodies, electric killing snow storms,
a plague of “no I won’t”

and freedom to eat indoors. As if grace
were in the act of dining. I dine alone,
my eyes closed, I can smell you

in the pillow: Lotus Musk.
Because of it, I won’t take off your pillow case
or run your nightgowns through the wash.

I smell you even in the living room;
it’s strange, how suddenly, I’m here
expecting you’ll come through the door.

Still, I find no paradise in common prayer,
no antidote to earth’s churning ash
or life in the beating of the surf

where now (as you wished) you disperse.  


If peace is forgetting, the lack of it
accounts for my recurring dream:
running in streets, dropping

bones doused in shadow
and orange flame. I’ve lost her

she’s fallen,

we got separated.

The rendezvous!

The rendezvous!

“We’ll meet by the oak in Riverside Park
where we used to smoke cigarettes in high school,

during lunch,


And I wait, I wait

until the fire is almost to my feet
on the hill above the scar

of highway,

silent highway.

I have to run! Run to the river,
take deep gulps, and quench
my thirst, vomit
all of what could kill me: —

the memory that makes me wait
as if to say what went unsaid.

Ryan is the Poet and Writer in Residence at the BWL School in New York City, and is Editor at the Poetry Barn. He graduated from Emerson College and holds an MFA in poetry from Hunter College. His poetry has been published online and in print.


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