Side A Poem: “Every Minute Is a Minute” by John Leo

Every Minute Is a Minute

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Every minute is a minute
we are not kissing. To drown
in the hyperstatic, to cross-reference
our slow material crucifixion.
We should be making out.
We should be napping
like salamanders in the embers
of a cop car. God damn them.
The bosses are calling.
I should be licking your cunt.
Lapping the gloom
from these wasted hours.

Every minute is a minute
we are not waltzing through
The Great Collapse. Jazz
bands buckling under an epoch
of oil and wine. The flame
of the old world casting
a shadow across your cheek
in time with the melody, so dark,
it blooms like the pure
lotus of an hour.

Mini-interview with John Leo

HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?

JL: One of the big moments for me has to do with the writer Sarah Blake, who has been this titanic force in my writing life. Her early poetry collection, Mr. West, was really my first window into the poetry world. Over the years we have had a correspondence, and she took a shine to my poems and so graciously made time out of her life to talk about them with me, and to share her own process, and to treat me like a colleague or a mentee, when honestly I didn’t believe I should be allowed to live on the same planet as her. That show of faith came from someone who had no good reason to be so kind to me, or to take mercy on me, but she helped to establish in me a faith in my own skill, helped to validate my worldview in a way that opened a lot of doors, mentally, emotionally.

HFR: What are you reading?

JL: I am a member of a little book club, just five of us. We play Dungeons & Dragons every alternating Wednesday, and we go to trivia night at one of the handful of beautiful dive bars in my neighborhood. Every month, we read a book and get together to talk about it. Right now, we’re reading Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks. It’s a plague novel, set in the 1600s. My friend Lauren picked it for her own reasons, I’m sure, but Brooks writes so marvelously and frankly about death and illness and loneliness. It’s helped quite a lot with how I think about our own modern plague and the decay of the communities around us. It’s a harrowing thing. I’m grateful to have this group of friends. We encourage each other to read outside our zones of familiarity. Year of Wonders is a book I never would have picked up on my own. The last thing we read before that was Turn of the Screw, my wife’s choice.

HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Every Minute Is a Minute”?

JL: I think under this system of capitalism, there is this very familiar feeling that you are wasting your life. One way or another. If you are working at some drudgery, you are wasting your life. If you are relaxing in a way you’ve been conditioned to view as unproductive, you are wasting your life. There are very few ways of “winning” in this system. Somewhat over a year ago, I began working from home. I made up a little home office, and that’s where I work my day job. My wife, Claire, works from home also. Just off in the next room. All day, we can hear each other tapping on our keyboards, clearing our throats, going about our measly little days. And in a sense it’s quite heartbreaking, to be working, to be attending this pitiful shuffling about of money and credit, when the love of my life is not twenty feet away. I began to feel an urgent sense of sadness, that our time together would be so much easier to enjoy if we were undistracted by the minutiae which keeps the lights on and keeps us fed. There is so much life to be lived, yet we feel hideously attached to the work which we do. That resistance is what boiled up into “Every Minute Is a Minute.”

HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?

JL: As both a writer and a designer of board games, I’m always working on a couple of projects at once. My last poetry collection, The Names of Ancient Wars, was focused so much on history and mythmaking and rather primordial kinds of violence. As I’m starting to build toward my next book, whatever that may look like, I’m finding myself tracing a throughline toward more modern expressions of desolation. Nuclear violence, environmental violence. The next book will be working somewhere along that axis. Eyes peeled.

HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?

JL: As much as you love your job, it will never love you back.

John Leo is the author of The Names of Ancient Wars (Ghost City Press, 2021), as well as the chapbook The Long Weekend is Over (CWP Collective Press, 2018). His work has appeared in the anthology A Flame Called Indiana: New Writing from the Crossroads (Indiana University Press, 2023), as well as Tinderbox Poetry, Entropy, FIVE:2:ONE, and elsewhere. He is the designer of the board game Wolves of Mercia (2019).

Photo credit: Callie Zimmerman

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