William James

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Hell is For Heroes

This poem is written exclusively with words taken from lyrics to the album 'Witness' by Modern Life Is War

The sirens dream of loneliness,
of dead men in black lace & rust,

rotting strings in skinny little hands,
& it's 1982 all over again, only better –

the sometime-ghosts still broken but clean.
The violence outside is restless.

A bad joke that doesn't go away,
but lingers, clinging to life like heaven

is a burning night of sweet dreams
& paper nerves. The ghosts scream

a common prayer for dead blood, cheap
liquor & rain. Half full of fear. Shivering

in exile again, & sick with despair. Lovesick
boys holding on to bloodshot dreams

of shelter. Stuck in a war against time,
a bitter anchor wrapped in ruby & exhaust.


& we can choose to bleed from the inside,
to assassinate the prophet and parade
around the bones. We're pretty but disconnected,

staring at empty factory windows as if
tomorrow we'll just give up. Let our scars become
a chorus of desperate strangers, hell's gutter

a bastard song to the steel mills, smoke stacks, a wasteland of
revenge or cold sand. Death is a mysterious neighbor
with locked veins & a paper tongue. A constricting in our guts,

a voice wandering and clawing through
the suburban streets of another winter night.


William James writes poems and listens to punk rock - not always in that order. He's an editor at Drunk In A Midnight Choir and a two-time Pushcart nominee whose poems have appeared in Word Riot, The Misanthropy, Words Dance, DM du Jour, and Potluck Magazine, among others. His first full length collection, Rebel Hearts & Restless Ghosts, is forthcoming from Timber Mouse Publishing.