Two Poems by John Tustin


I sat in the park with my pad and my pencil
And I tried to sketch the people going by,
The water crashing, the boats passing,
The green and yellow hill.
My left hand smudging the paper
As it dragged along like a bad leg.
I sat there interminably
And the people on my pad did not look like they were supposed to.
The water was dry,
The hills immovable and dull.

I bought the paints and I set up the canvas
In the room with the best daylight
But the work seemed too much
And my talent too slim,
The choices too many.
I couldn’t even decide on the colors!

I didn’t even try to play the guitar
Or sculpt.
A short story was impossible,
Never mind a novel!
All that work work work.
Nothing seemed easy until I began these delicate fuzzy sketches –
A few words at a time,
Halting like Morse Code.
Revealing just enough to a reader
For them to know but also not know –
Just emotions brushing up subtly against the heart.
I could argue about the meaning behind what I had written
Without even quite knowing what I meant when I wrote it
And I would always be right.

It was confusing and diabolical art
Written in the secret of a dark room alone.

I had found my confession,
My expression,
My purpose,

My milieu.

Walking Backward

I started to walk backward
and kept walking
until I reached the place I recognized;
remembered from some time ago.
I stood still
while the wind that once whispered
to me to do it
when I wouldn’t do it
now did nothing to me
but tousle my hair
and let loose
a sad but consistent snigger
of I-told-you-so.
with the rattlesnakes rattling
on either side of the path,
I started to walk forward
as the shadows of the sun that once trailed me
began to lead the way.

John Tustin has poetry forthcoming in The MacGuffin, Innisfree Poetry Journal, SOFTBLOW, and others. He is also a previous contributor to Sparks of Calliope. Find links to his poetry published online here.

Two Poems by John Tustin


like the first kiss
with an almost-stranger
you only kissed one early morning,
years ago.
You told yourself
that you kissed her
just to pass a little time
and you’ve believed it
ever since.

You remember the bus station
and sitting there with her
at three A.M.,
just you and her
and an old man dozing
far off in the corner

and you remember
she said something to you
that made you cry
but you don’t remember what

and you don’t know
if she kissed you first
or you kissed her first
and you don’t remember
what it all felt like,
not really.

You just remember
that you liked it,
it felt good.

You wish you could do it again
and if you did
you’d remember her face this time:
her face, her hands,
the way she spoke,
the fluttering in your stomach,
the feeling of her body against yours
and her kisses,
especially her kisses.

You tell yourself
that you’d remember this time –
not like last time
when you forgot
her words, her eyes,
all that tingling,
the way you’ve forgotten almost everything.

I Am a Lake

I am a lake, hidden from the road by trees;
A dense thicket of trees meant to obscure me, meant to isolate me.
I am a lake, small and placid and very cold. No one knows I am here.
There is not much alive and swimming beneath my surface
But it is enough that if you dip in five tenuous toes
You may feel a slight swirl of life around your now frigid foot.

No one knows I am here. I can be your secret place.
Can you feel pleasure spreading out a blanket before my ambivalence
With just a book and a light lunch to bring you comfort and satiety?
It could be deep into the season before my water is warm enough
For you to take a swim. It could be that even the whole season could pass.
You might become frustrated and leave me alone here far from the road,

Obscured by trees. You maybe become impatient and gingerly wade on in.
If you do put both feet in, I implore you not to blame me If your body becomes
Immobile from the cold. I did not ask you
      to venture off the road or dip your toes.
I did not ask you
      to salve your curiosity from the road to beyond the trees to me.
I did not ask you to do anything the way I once begged the sun to more often
Shine upon me and now ask the sun again.

John Tustin has poetry forthcoming in The MacGuffin, Innisfree Poetry Journal, SOFTBLOW, and others. He is also a previous contributor to Sparks of Calliope. Find links to his poetry published online here.

Two Poems by John Tustin

Her Shoulder

And what about her shoulder?
How it looked as a soft mound, covered in a blanket,
Her sighing and asleep with her back to you
In the wan still glow of the moonlit dark.
Your shiver of excitement
When she turned over in her sleep
To face you, a look of consternation on her eyelids,
What was almost a secretive smile
Flirting at both corners of her mouth.

And what about her shoulder?
Once she turned over it shook loose
And stared at you, bare.
You looked at the gooseflesh that rose on it
And you put the blanket over it again,
Where it belonged
As she began to snore, right there beside you,
Where she belonged.

Pictures with Words

I am painting pictures with words.
I do it on most nights.
There need not be structure and the image combinations
Are limitless
So why will I write another poem
Where you will see a lone man feeling barely alive,
Prostrate on his bed and hiding from the sun?
I can paint anything:
I can paint birds in the sky,
Worms dancing tribal dances underneath the grass
But I don’t and I won’t.
Why is this?

Today a hawk flew ten feet from my face
And landed in a tree, so high up
He was difficult to see.
He didn’t look at me once.
It was a beautiful moment
But I had no desire to tell you about it –
I’m only telling you now to make my point.
I could paint a little rabbit in the bushes below
And I could write about the triumph of the hawk
Or the escape of the rabbit
And make you happy with either conclusion
But that’s not what I paint.

I won’t paint the light but I will paint the heat.
I won’t paint the growth but I will paint the dark.
I hear a noise and I know the noise must be me.
Even when I try to write a lovely day
It becomes the solemn pounding of a dirge.
The moon comes out of hiding
And I look up at it and it’s pockmarked and ugly.
I want to tell you it’s lovely but I can’t
And it’s not because I won’t lie to you,
No – it’s only because I can’t. I lie to you all the time.
I look in the mirror and I see my narrow hips,
A big gut that sluices over the sides like water
Shaking out of a bucket
And I’ll have to go to funeral after funeral
Until I get to the last one I’ll ever attend.

John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals in the last twelve years. His website contains links to his published poetry online.

“Break the Clasp” by John Tustin

She keeps the banjo Jay bought her
Right beside her bed.

Alex painted her portrait
And it sits on the bedroom wall,
In view of her sleeping body
Night after night after night.

My 500 poems written about her are in a drawer,
Underneath some blankets and a book beneath her bed.
My photo is turned down, wrapped in a shirt in another drawer.
She used to keep it at work, so I was told.

She is going to start practicing the banjo again.
It’s important to her.

The painting by Alex,
Her daughter remarked how much she liked it.
She has no idea who painted it and wouldn’t know his name,

She tells me she will always love me.
She doesn’t love Jay anymore,
Hasn’t for a decade.
She never loved Alex, not even a little.

In another world
All the poems I wrote for her paper her walls.
Before bed she chooses a different one each night to read.
In another world.

In this world
I will always be relegated to the closet,
To be brought out
When the parents or the children are asleep.

She keeps me in a locket.
A locket that she never wears.
I lie in between her spare bedding
And some forgotten boots,
Pushing outward;

Trying to break the clasp.

John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals in the last twelve years. His website contains links to his published poetry online.

“Run Out of Love” by John Tustin

It has happened –
The days run together all the same
And I don’t know if I spoke to you
A day ago or a month.

I wait for you to contact me
And if you don’t
Then we just won’t ever speak again.

The sun coming into the room in the morning
Feels like the stormtroopers bursting in,
Turning drawers and cabinets upside down,
Shredding furniture, breaking windows,
Pouring the liquid from bottles onto the floor.

It has happened –
Even the memories of happiness
Have become so distant and obscure
That it feels as if the moments happened to someone else,
Or perhaps I watched them on television.

I stuff empty plastic bags into other plastic bags;
I am unaware when I am driving or walking alone.
I notice nothing and I am no one to anyone
As I wind down the hours waiting in line at the supermarket,
Waiting for checks to clear.

It has happened –
I’ve run out of love
Before I’ve run out of breath.

Waiting out the clock,
I close my eyes tonight and it feels like all the stars in the sky have vanished.

I’m afraid to open my eyes and go look.

John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals in the last twelve years. His website contains links to his published poetry online.