Three Poems by Robert Campbell

all i ever wanted was a house to keep me still

somewhere to hang up my smile 

when i’m tired of cranking it wide 

for other people. a place to pin me

down so i don't float off. now all

our houses are open concept steel 

and glass our kitchens like minimalist

theater god help us. every room

has too much sky. if i stand

at the sink my neighbors wave

which is kind though i’m wearing

christmas pajamas in april and i just 

let out a little fart. the rain sails on

in fleets pummeling shale. at night 

my lightbulbs fritz and blare 

casting the shadow of my neck

long enough to bend around

the mailbox like a crane and like 

a crane i can pull away almost

completely into cloud. the roof

opens like a gift box to set me

adrift through a hole in the storm

a quiet buoy a plume then hush.


i regret the sharp words of my youth

like pins stuck in an open hand

that cannot be removed but instead burrow

through the dark tunnels of the body

to seek its weakness. true i was queer

and unnerved. i lummoxed through halls

teeth first. still what escaped me then

was that my captors had years before

swallowed the very poison they meant

for me its ichor thick in their gullets

immovable. what dart could ever

necrotize that which has already

been envenomed. what greased arrow

could take down what is dead. still

i tried. so i too flung my teeth

at strangers to see which edges stuck

only i still feel them. every one a spore

cast from the bloom of my own 

throat in those years when i had pain 

to spare. how could i have known

each spine was borrowed from my spine 

each needle pulled like a cellist's bow

across taut nerve. now i can name

each pin prick cast in its constellation

like buckshot spewed haphazard 

by the terrified thing i no longer know

pearls all little orphans all precious

indexed by angle against the wind.



two black-clad sisters holding hands
gaze into the camera’s aperture
as if it were a mile-long hallway
with you on the other end fixed
in space. you’re looking at their collars
so crisp and white. they’re looking
into the space where you in your tattered
jeans and wrinkled shirt are yet 
to be. you’re standing in a flea market
that was once perhaps a field
of bull nettle and clover. so you pay
two bucks for the thing and endure
the cashier’s doddering song about
that schoolhouse by a long-gone
farm. so you bristle at the cold
on your walk home. so you fling
the tintype on a pile of hospital bills
for your husband’s chemotherapy
clicking your teeth. you’re looking
at your reflection in the window now
thinking of a field somewhere its silver
and wave thinking about the shadow
in the center of a chicory flower
its gaze drifting over you. you
who are yet to be born. and there
stand the sisters in their midnight
frocks so neatly pleated. and there
is the schoolhouse that was stacked
its logs so tight against the wind
clean and airless like their smiles.

Robert Campbell is a queer poet living and writing in rural Kentucky. He is the author of the poetry collection Infinity Closet (Tolsun Books, 2021) as well as the chapbooks Monster Colloquia (Hellbox Publications, 2020) and In the Herald of Improbable Misfortunes (Etchings Press, 2018). His poetry and criticism have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Barrow Street, The Adroit Journal, and many other journals. He serves as editor of 
Red Tree Review.