Chris LaMay-West

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Poem from the Week Josh Died

Clement Street, between 11th & 12th:Artwork by Gene McCormick
Police motorcycle, lights flashing blue-white-red
parked next to Linen Outlet.

12th Avenue, between Clement & Geary:
Motorcycle cop, big and tough in black leather
pulls over little gray Japanese car.

Geary Avenue, corner with 12th:
Two police bikes have pulled over two cars
another hums up the street past me,
policeman suspiciously eyeing the green Perrier
I am drinking from a brown paper bag.

11th Avenue, just before it crosses Geary:
Three police motorcycles pull up to the corner.

Geary, on the bus now, passing 10th Avenue:
Police bike, lights blazing, roars past us.
Why do I fear this symmetry?


Walking back from Jen’s
squinting in morning sun,
the smell of her still on my hands,
a familiar sense of dread
as I switch my phone back on.

I double down on the feeling
when I see my parent’s number,
and hear the dark tone in their voices.

Even before I call back, I know.
I always knew this call would come one day.

I pick up a bottle of Jack Daniels on the way home,
and hold a wake for him,
listening to Guns n’ Roses
until afternoon collapses into dusk.
"Where do we go?
Where do we go now,
Sweet child of mineā€¦"


The girl’s laughter
as she talks over the counter
to a young man
in white shirt
about his spicy lunch
while we drop off my brother’s picture
for the obituary
makes me smile
at the gorgeous stupidity
of life.


On the way to my brother’s memorial
Caltrain slides past
twisted scrap heaps of junked cars,
rusting loading cranes,
squat graffitied warehouses,
and wooden piers rotting
in brackish looking waterways
the color of steel.
Weird scenes
on the leeward side of the Bay.


We buried Josh
on a liquid gray foggy morning
at the small cemetery in Moss Landing.
The minister from my Mother’s church
sang Amazing Grace
as a striped seabird
squawked and alighted nearby,
and a small black and white cat
watched from the weeds
of the windswept field
just one dune down
from the ocean.


Taking Caltrain home from the burial,
watching sunset on the hills
of South San Francisco.
Golden curves
and soft shadows,
like a woman’s body.


The square green park
between Jackson & Front Streets
was full of birds this afternoon.
Squawks, chirps, and twitters
pour from the dark spaces
in the trees
like a tidal surge
that, just for a moment, washes out
thoughts of my brother
and carries me back to life,
which insists on going on.

No matter how unwelcome it is.


Heavy Garbage Day

It was my turn to visit
that weekend,
so I should have been with her,
my future ex-wife.

But she lived
two hours away
by Shinkansen
and this was Omoi Gomi Hi,
that one day a month
when the heavy trash was thrown out-
dingy couches, battered microwaves,
anything no longer
new and perfect
as the Japanese require.
But still good enough for
us foreign wage slaves
crawling like rats
over the mounds of trash
in the dumpster
behind my suburban hi-rise.

This was the last time
things would be
sweet and easy between us,
despite a decade together
that still lay ahead.
I should have been with her.

But maybe we already knew
we were at our best
when apart.

And even then
I knew
I was searching for something else,
even if it was only
a television
in a garbage heap.


Chris LaMay-West believes in the power of rock music, Beat poetry, and the sanctity of Star Trek. He has appeared in Kitchen Sink and Morbid Curiosity, in various online venues including the Rumpus and the online edition of Opium, and in the Mortified reading series. A California native, Chris recently expatriated to Vermont, where he writes, works for a college, serves as the assistant poetry editor for Mud Season Review, and lives with his lovely bride and two cats. His exploits, literary and other, can be followed at: