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J A C O B  S U N D E R L I N 

4 poems



The X my mother

pressed into each

mosquito welt

to show whose blood

was sweetest

was marked.


The paper towel

stuck to the gash in his forehead

[not a crown]

& behind, his work jumper, left laying,

fallen from the line

like a snake’s peeled off part

pressed itself into the ground.


God never clapped back

in any kind of lightning voice

or thunder-throated & drunken

slid across the sky

on bottleneck & knife,

or glissando'd down chemtrails

hung like a chokechain

or guitar strung

above any neighborhood

I’d been to, but

something must have showed face

in the crust of the cold

blue-dark blossom of saliva

dried to the carpet

& he wanted to be sky buried anyway,

she had said, like they do in Tibet,

so that’s why she left him

in the hall after he OD’d

& threw open the windows

across 3rd St. from the bar

where we stood in afterwork

clouds of smoke

watching cops gather

& stretch yellow tape

around what

we weren’t supposed to see.


I don’t remember his name, the enlisted dude

who said this town was bullshit as being

back at basic, anyway, stabbing

a cigarette through the plastic wrapped

around the pack, dragon blazed across

the psychedelic sky of fake-silk shirt,

waiting for the bus after work.

He stared deep into the dishwater like my brother

& I would stare at dead raccoons

floating facedown in Freeman Lake.

Said he’d bring us back a thousand bucks

of Afghan kush from overseas—That’s my college—

saying he knows of a guy, just off base,

who could get this acid.

He said you take it in your eyes.


is a two-door, hard-top, & it’s primer-colored,

color of moss or mushrooms at the base

of a cutdown tree, like it has always been there,

rusting into dust next to the acetylene

& the cherrypicker & the spit. I remember it was bought & sold.

I remember how much I’ve been told

a man needs a hobby & how for his

my dad & uncle drove to Illinois to talk a man down

to five hundred from a thousand.

I remember sleeping in the backseat as they traded

this brother-you-better-not-get-that-brokeass-ruster-just-gonna-sit-around-

the-yard-needing-fixed look, so he could give the guy his


&-let-that-rope-be-made-of-money look right back.

I remember how often people say you are from nowhere

here, so that nowhere grows inside you

& since this two-tone Bel-Air has rusted inside the nowhere

it rusted inside of me, in its garage of nowhere,

among the flat caps of shelf mushrooms that grow

in the nowhere made of whatever this we is

made of—you might start to think of this as inheritance.

I don’t remember buying it, but having bought it,

riding back with my uncle, tailing the Chevy as it swerved

like a sailboat in the lane. I remember,

between Fithian & Oakwood, out 150, the light that late

fall light, the light off a beertop, flipping the dial

from static to static, I pushed the cigarette

lighter in just to see it burn. I remember a cloud

of dust, semi-trailer in the other lane like a whale

we’d rowed up to, some dumbass

in a Mazda straddling two lanes & the wind

as it passes—I remember the cigarette lighter

pops out, red. I remember that car had a smell,

it’s still in there somewhere, if you roll

the windows down, & sit in it—the smell of a silent interior,

the smell of something closed up so long,

never touched, which grew to fill the space it left.

I remember that day at the side of the road

he sat in it, my father, knuckles around the wheel,

laughing like he stole something.


Jacob Sunderlin is the author of This We in the Back of the House (Saturnalia Books, 2022). A writer and musician, his poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Narrative, and other magazines. His work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Educated at public schools, he teaches tenth grade at one in Indiana.

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