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When Vice President Pence Talks About Life, I Want to Cut Off My Lips and Bury Them in a National Park

in Identity by

Snowing in Buffalo and all I keep thinking about
Is that Doomsday Clock and how its ticking coordinates nicely
With my chain smoking. It’s, like, 1 AM and I’m worse for wear,
Chasing after vampire astronauts celebrating Halloween

In America’s deep emptiness that no one dares to talk about.
The downtown skyline looks like a bloodless constellation
Of chapped lips – it seems that nobody wants to kiss anymore.
I go to Walgreens and buy some chapstick spearmint lip balm.

I find the building with the worst lips and spend an hour or so
Applying the chapstick. Gentrification won’t fix these lips.
There are rivers of asteroids flowing out of the windows
And the debris is crash landing on the sunken cheeks

Of deposed princes and princesses panhandling for smokes,
But they don’t care. The more craters you got,
The less you mind one or two more. I give them all my smokes
And head back to Walgreens to buy some more.
Thank God it’s open 24 hours. While waiting in line,
I check Facebook and there are a ton of posts from terrified friends
About how pipeline octopi will tentacle their way into National Parks,
And all that green we love so much will be drugged and dragged

To the bottom of a crude sea where there’s silence and good people do nothing –
And here I am in Buffalo, mainlining coffee all night,
Because I have no choice but to avoid alcohol,
Because sometimes when I drink too much I become monstrous

And I’m afraid of the things I know I’ll say,
That I’ll sound too much like Trump and his shipwrecked bravado.
Still though, all I keep thinking about is how all my favorite bartenders
Have fled town for greener pastures in cities rising faster.

Donny’s somewhere in Rochester crafting cocktails
Like a mad scientist resurrecting dead whiskies.
He used to date a barista I was probably in love with.
She’s an architect now somewhere in Oregon,

Crafting condos on Pacific slopes and loving life I hope.
Then there was Brian who one night watched me puke
Up and down Elmwood as I chemtrailed my demons
On the summer street. He loved his wine and always

Poured me well. He’s got a wife and kid now
And probably doesn’t squint in the moonlight like he used to.
I tell myself over and over again that I’m happy for him.
Sitting on the bench in front of Walgreens,

I check my iPhone again and read an article
About the annual March for Life rally in Washington
That happened the other day. Vice President Pence
Spoke and decided that “Life is winning again in America.”

Which America is he talking about? The America I see
Where blue collar Nosferatus try to keep their pride intact
While daylight pummels their multiple-job insomnia
Into pieces? Every day I watch my friends and lovers

Where insecure bureaucrats are smoking the last drags of freedom before the whole goddamn thing goes up in smoke.

Break their backs trying to pick up all the overworked shrapnel
From a war that nobody ever talks about, the war we all fight
These days just to make it to tomorrow without putting a gun
In our mouths, because beauty is leaving this world

And there must be a giant ashtray somewhere in America
Where insecure bureaucrats are smoking the last drags
Of freedom before the whole goddamn thing goes up in smoke.
Which America is Vice President Pence talking about?

The America where rusted-out toddlers and still-hopeful refugees
Are shoeless in the snow and playing badminton
With dead birdies falling from the sky? If I could,
I would carry them all in my arms and take them

To the lush National Park I hope we still have in our dreams,
With a love so powerful it’ll put shoes on their feet
And build homes in their hearts. When people like Pence
Speak of life, we must show them what that really means,

What it entails, an aggressive empathy that clothes us all
In possibility. 3 AM, I think, and I’m really needing a drink,
Thinking about life as I’m tremoring my way home. The delirium
Is real. I climb up some snow to survey the city I still love.

There are meth heads in the Southern Tier building windmills
Out of dying teeth, desperate to birth a wind that’ll force their lips apart
So they can smile again. There are crackheads in scuba suits
Looking for constitutional treasure at the bottom of the Niagara River.

Looming over them is the Peace Bridge, that diaphragm
Of free trade, and all I see are gridlocked gray clouds
And a storm of tears from refugees unable to cross into our country.
The thunder is so loud it sounds like an explosion

And maybe it is. Meanwhile, there are aging coke heads
Being kicked out of hipster bars for snorting too much anxiety.
They rage against the dying of the night and betray everyone
They love. I don’t blame them. After all, what do you expect

When my generation builds sanitariums out of selfies
Night after night trying to therapize themselves into thinking
They’re not fucked in the head, that they’re not self-indulgent,
That they’re doing all they can to make the world a better place.

I’ve had enough. I tumble down the hill and start running home.
There’s no life here. There’s no beauty. I want the thunder to be louder,
For cause and effect, making symphony halls weep with profound insecurity,
Forcing orgasms to take vows of silence, for all Americans to break out

Of their self-congratulatory mirrors, for refugees everywhere to find a home,
For addicts everywhere to kick whatever’s making them sick,
For all the old white men in ties to hang themselves from dying redwoods
And with their last breaths, to realize what life really means, what it entails,

And maybe our lips will fix themselves, maybe we’ll learn how to kiss again.
I turn the corner to my street and people are already shoveling.
It must be morning. Hypocrisy is a lot like shoveling snow in Buffalo.
No matter how much work you put in, there’s always another storm.

Sometimes the pain we feel crystallizes into something beautiful.
Sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, we mustn’t forget what’s happened,
What’s happening now, all the mornings we go home footless in bumper cars
After spending whole nights chewing the fat of the land

And bruising our tongues on other people’s words,
Waterboarding our hearts with drink so our blood flow
Is festered with falsehoods. The things we do to ignore reality.
No more though: we must rediscover ourselves in the deafening claps

Of supernatural thunder, when the weight of responsibility
Outweighs tragedy so that we may never slip and break our backbones
On patches of hypocrisy. As soon as I get home, I pour myself
A big glass of whiskey, but pass out before I have the chance to drink it.


Justin Karcher is the author of Tailgating at the Gates of Hell from Ghost City Press and the chapbook When Severed Ears Sing You Songs from Cringe-Worthy Poets Collective. Recent poems have been published in 3:AM Magazine, Zombie Logic Review, Devise Literary, The Honest Ulsterman, The Literateur and more. He is the editor-in-chief of Ghost City Review. His one act play When the Skeletons in Our Closets Choke on Candy Corn premiered in October at The Players Theatre in New York City.