Your breath, which you never gave to the graveyard before. Open your window. Think of your breath,
not of his body swelling with gases, vultured in its casket,
emptied of gumption, taken away.
You have no sadness left. You’ve been given enough finally to give up this breath.
Give it, but slow. Death is the steam you can’t blow from the scalding bowl this boneyard is.
Breathe out. He waits for your breath. Think of it leaving your ribs,
not of his teeth left behind.
Your breath, not his skin the velvet-dark molds and blackens.
Loosen your wheelgrip. Empty your lungs. Give of yourself till you’ve nothing left. Now take him in.
It’s for when Chris Hansen’s To Catch a Predator crew walks out that I watch. The caught guy’s vision in that instant must blur like a rain puddle on which wind ruffles the image of branches. I mean the very second when his body becomes tree frog embottled in a thick dream-air. He can’t run or yell despite the world being on fire. This is before he beelines for the door. I mean long before the ah-ha that he too’s been a camera lurking around curves whose lens is not to be looked into. How to the chase trauma cuts and yet his snared mind’s pickled him in this, the last peace he’ll get to live in. I’m watching his face not recognize faces. To turn the corner and see the boom mic sprawled out ungodly-angled. The skinned light encroaching. This isn’t about him. This is about the burn mark of a moment. A life breaking bone-like all at once. This is about the firing squad of what awaits. Flattened squirrel’s living tail flicking its diminished chord. Wife’s roving hands. Diagnosis. This is a prayer, really. Gunshot. My body dying on the pavement. But that bless of stillness just before.
-- Alex Chertok has poems published or forthcoming inThe Kenyon Review Online, The Missouri Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, and Best New Poets 2016, among others, and essays on his prison teaching published in Ploughshares and forthcoming from Alaska Quarterly Review. He was runner-up in the North American Review’s 2019, and finalist in the 2021, James Hearst Poetry Prize, as well as finalist in the 2020 Third Coast Poetry Contest. He currently teaches at Ithaca College and through the Cornell Prison Education Program.