Three Horrifying Poems by John Tustin


I killed my friends one by one,
Tossing them as seemingly nonchalantly off the cliffs
Of my mind
As a terrorist or a pirate
Or an eager soldier
Kills the innocent
Or those presumed to be guilty
By circumstance 
Or the frailties of their own predisposed

I walked in little more than dead
And walked out so much worse
Than merely dead.

I look at this small painting
Just brown throbbing sadness
On my wall
As the waves come endlessly
To the helpless sand;
As the thunder bellows her thunder,
The lightning strikes targets
Either intended or not
And I wait for the rain
To fall
Upon me
And elsewhere

(I killed my friends
One by one
Decades after each one
Murdered me
And then forgot where they buried
The body.)

And fall upon me
It does.
I open another can of beer
And step outside, shirtless,
Letting the rain fall over me
In little rivers of self-importance
As the words I have written run their ink
Down the page
I am holding
Into the gutters
Of everything so unimportant
It is forgotten
As it is written.
The ink becomes incomprehensible tattoos
On my hands and forearms
And the horror evident
In my eyes.

All my lovers left me,
Even the ones I left
And now I am here
Imagining I am being abandoned
Right this moment
By those who abandoned me
Long ago.
Me, an immigrant on this earth
With the responsibility to work hard
At being human
And leaving involuntarily 
While impacting the maximum
And the minimum

The water runs over me.
I shiver despite the heat.
Another baptism 
And baptism does
But assuage the guilt
Of those most guilty.
They sigh in relief
As demons bat their wings,
Knowing what is real.

The rain subsides.
I step inside
And open the refrigerator,
Pull out another can of beer,
Open it
In the barely light
Of a room bathed in 
An early evening storm.
I pour the can into a glass
And then tip the glass.
No one sees me.
All my friends dead,
My lovers gone
And on and on like that:

Especially you
Who was the best of both.
I drink to you

I drink to them!
Despite them
And because of them
And also
Fuck them…


Every mistake and misstep of my past
Is worn by me like
The sadness of tattoos,
The emptiness of tattoos,
Upon my face,
My body.
Prison tattoos
Created out of terror,
Covering up the fear
That inhabited every step I took
In this cell
We all mistake
For freedom.

The tattoo on my neck
Is of a flower trampled by an army
Of the faceless.
The tattoos on my fingers
All of the words I typed and lost
During the decades of hurricanes
And displacement. 
They are too small to read.
The sleeves on my arms
The sleeves of desperation 
And a need to be wanted or, at least,

The tattoo on my belly,
The tattoos on my arms,
My legs, just painful memories
I wrapped up in the warmth
Of learning or nostalgia.
How stupid I am to make my idiocy indelible
To anyone who sees me naked.

Your name is, of course,
Emblazoned on my chest
With a dragon and some flames
And shit.
Something like that. 

The tattoos on my eyes?
Well, you put them there yourself, my dear.
They keep me from seeing clearly
And they cannot be removed
With a hot knife or the scalpel of time
And tattoos are certainly not something
A man could wish away
Or they would be gone,
I promise.

I walk shirtless across the prison yard,
Not standing out from the others.
No, no more or less stained
Than most of the rest
Of them
Although I imagine myself
Their king
And most of them imagine
The very same about themselves.

I must be the king, though –
It says so all across my back,
Between the scars made from the beatings
With the strop


Tonight, I imagine
Has a commonality

With what will be
The very end –

I lie here with my eyes shut
Fighting off the inevitable sleep

Thinking just one thought 
While the music plays:

One more song!
Just one more. 

John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals since 2009. contains links to his published poetry online.

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