the river’s whiskey & my body a raft i have built from detritus. i burned a city to build a compass that points only to a deer’s body splayed roadside, organs exposed.
once, i carved an entire forest into a canoe just to wreck among the rapids. once, i swirled the deer’s blood into a mural on asphalt. no, not a mural. just splatter. I am always trying to make death into something gorgeous.
Instead, i chain a cement block to my ankle, sink into the river-bottom muck. lungs filter silt & burn. i disown willow bark each time i sing into the current’s neck. even the moss knows my name is not memorable.
like a wake of buzzards dipping beaks into the carcass, tearing pink kinks of entrails from the gut, i subsist an entire summer vacuuming the cream filling from moonpies.
i am vulture-drunk on grief. once, a corpse i called friend became a poem, & i woke with a gun that fit perfectly in my mouth. once, i drank too much gin, then plucked an elegy from between my teeth.
the body decomposing is too slow a rapture.
i know about joy
tonight even after the sun slacks off, sinks into the hammock-horizon i grasp lightning bugs in the mesh of fingers hold close whatever passes for illumination here.
tonight i am lit-wicked roman candle alighting the backyard in a wreath of ruin. become barrage of abandon: each ecstatic whizz smears even the dark into kaleidoscope. call this coronation call this halo of fluorescent joy a crown you wear only until morning
tonight we have occupied the house in the woods for five days, a friend’s family vacationing in florida & their home become palace of debauchery:
a record catches fire when it plays the right song the hallway floods with toilet water the porch becomes dumping ground for booze-drowsy bodies our bodies vessel the impulse to rage. in revelry we confuse plastic pouches of white powder with joy, half-full bottles with joy.
tonight even what i write about joy becomes eventually elegy, grasping for what cannot be held.
tonight-- a vinyl forty-five, its grooves embedded with match-strike paper. the record immolates when the needle drops & only music escapes, only a song whose words blur.
tonight becomes a husk of glitter—this what we know of joy, a substance we must slip into our bodies so that we might slip outside our bodies. what we know of joy is we do not know how to survive when it is gone.
-- Derek Berryis the author of Heathens & Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA, 2016). They are the founder of The Unspoken Word, a Carolina-based literary non-profit providing free literary resources to authors and readers. Their recent work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Yemassee, Gigantic Sequins, BOAAT, Taco Bell Quarterly, & elsewhere.