'Extinguish' & 'The Patron Saint of Scared Kids Who Break Into Dry Cleaners' by Justin Karcher


I’m standing on the beach with my ghost beside me

we think we’re watching whales wash ashore, but they’re not whales

they’re mammalian jukeboxes from the 1950s

a coin-operated Cold War from when the world was supposed to end

their cords are plugged into nothing, but they’re still spitting out songs

the best songs about fire, flames, or things burning

is this what it looks like when you lose passion over time?

when the fire inside you has no place to go, but you keep singing anyway

We see the glow of fire in the distance and a haunting of shadows

my ghost whispers, “I don’t know why firefighters exist

you can’t run from momentum, you can’t fight it

when love goes up in flames, it’s not the heart that smells rotten… but the sky itself

raindrops that feel like a dead man’s fingers on the back of your neck

we’re always ready for a fresh new start

surgeons made from ash dissecting old anatomy

so we might walk in newness of life”

I don’t know when my ghost started quoting the Bible

when he started cutting the cocaine of optimism

with the pessimism of laundry detergent

it’s a volatile mix, he’s piss-poor company

but I have to remind myself that this is my future

the fire continues to spread

my ghost whispers, “Fires should die of natural causes

wouldn’t it be nice if beauty leaves this world on its own terms?”



I’m driving aimlessly in a car that’s not mine

staring at the empty can of Red Bull on the passenger seat

wondering why Pac-Man is emblazoned on the aluminum

thinking about being so hungry that you could eat ghosts

then Sirius XM saves me from my brain

Kid Cudi singing, “kids see ghosts sometimes”

which means that ghosts see kids too

and that’s a little scary

then suddenly Kanye West starts rapping

I forgot he’s on this song

I still love Kanye

despite everything

loyalty has always been my biggest flaw

and I imagine Kanye as a ghost of himself

sticking his translucent head out the window of a haunted house

and maybe America is that haunted house

a city upon a hill, now haunted

where kids congregate outside its rusted gates

afraid to go in, because once you enter

you’ll be leaving in a body bag

all of America is trying to eat Kanye!

anyway, I still have laundry to do

it’s too late for this

and there’s a little voice in my head saying

throw your dirty laundry out the window

shirt by shirt, your dumb white button-ups

you hate wearing, let the kids who wander streets

find ‘em and put ‘em on, like slipping on ghost skins

the kids who break into dry cleaners when nobody’s around

and stealing all the clothes, because it’s easier to deal with ghosts

when you’re dressed up like the living dead

the kids who want nothing more than to see clouds with color

eventually, I come across this deflated hot air balloon on the side of the road

I pull over, scoop it up, put it in my trunk like some bludgeoned corpse

then I go into a gas station and run inside to the ATM

take out whatever money I have left in my checking account

then I dump it on the counter and demand all the quarters in the world

run outside to the air pump, put in the quarters

start filling up the hot air balloon

until it’s full and luxurious and ready to touch the clouds

then I sail around America picking up the kids wearing other people’s clothes

clothes that don’t look right on ‘em, clothes that hide who they really are

clothes their parents wear, clothes that politicians wear

ghosts can’t see us way up here, they hate it when kids turn skies into mirrors

I never did the laundry, oh reverse damnation

the car I was driving is now a statue at some gas station

we use the skin we shed to cover up American dread

the kids who break into dry cleaners will never be dead


Justin Karcher is a Pushcart-nominated poet and playwright born and raised in Buffalo, New York. He is the author of Tailgating at the Gates of Hell (Ghost City Press, 2015), the chapbook When Severed Ears Sing You Songs (CWP Collective Press, 2017), the micro-chapbook Just Because You've Been Hospitalized for Depression Doesn't Mean You're Kanye West (Ghost City Press, 2017), Those Who Favor Fire, Those Who Pray to Fire (EMP, 2018) with Ben Brindise, and Bernie Sanders Broke My Heart and I Turned into an Iceberg (Ghost City Press, 2018). He is also the editor of Ghost City Review and co-editor of the anthology My Next Heart: New Buffalo Poetry (BlazeVOX [books], 2017). He tweets @Justin_Karcher.

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