Two Dark Poems by Marcus Whalbring: “The Man in Our Basement” and “There’s a Strange Light Coming from CVS Tonight”

CVS at night with strange glow: illustration for the poem "There’s a Strange Light Coming from CVS Tonight" by Marcus Whalbring
Modified version of the photo “CVS at Night” by Todd Van Hoosear, shared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 from Wikimedia Commons

There’s a Strange Light Coming Out of CVS Tonight

It draws deer out of pine woods 
who stand at the edge of the parking lot
like they’re listening to an orchestra of cobwebs. 
I watch through the kitchen window while I finish the dishes.
I’d like to go down and see if the light
feels as child-like as it looks, like it would hurt you
just so it could learn to love you. 
The yard fills with tree ghosts
who snuff out fireflies and dissolve moths in their wake. 
Why can’t they leave the summer alone? 
We’ve had rains that draw worms to the sidewalks 
so we can catch them for the compost heap. 
We were outside in a swarm of light last night 
catching fireflies. I wouldn’t have called it a swarm, 
maybe a concert of wicks, 
not a plague, but a symphony.
Or I might’ve called them the punctuation
of sentences unspoken
falling from the tongues of trees. 
Whatever they were, they landed
softly on our hands, like ashes. They didn’t let go 
until we propped them up like small torches
and offered them back to the moon.
They took their time, 
searching our skin for some darkness 
they hadn’t swallowed yet.
Tonight the light from CVS  reaches past the curbs
and makes sparrows in puddles. It turns toward me
with its ecliptic stare as the ghosts surround me
and fill the kitchen with a wind
that smells like October. What do they want me
to remember? How do I see myself
in this new world that’s learning to disappear
one mirror at a time? Does it get any easier, 
staying here? I should have asked 
the firefly last night who paused  
on the young curtain of skin on my daughter’s wrist. 
She was worried it was hurt,
that something was about to die
on her. I told her to put it in the sky
and wait. When it’s ready, it will fly.

The Man in Our Basement 

is covered in starlings. 
Drinks water that drips where the pipes 

are wounded. While I lie in bed, I hear ashes 
falling from the sky of his mouth. 

I hear him staring at nothing. 
I hear the trees outside, 

and they sound like him
while Dad sleeps with the TV on, 

his mouth open, 
a bit of the blue glow pouring down his throat. 

The day I met the man in our basement 
I’d accidentally left the refrigerator door 

open then went to school.
I have a theory that everyone has a window inside them. 

You can hear them breaking underneath 
if you listen hard enough, 

but the harder you listen, the more they break. 
When Dad and I came home that evening 

the milk and all the meat and cheese had gone bad. 
Dad yelled until his face was the color of a bruise. 

He broke a chair, then stormed out. 
I sat in the last cough of daylight.

The kitchen still smelled like Mom. 
I looked out the window and saw 

a silhouetted cloud of starlings 
warping like a tear on the torn twilight. 

Below the floor I could hear laughter 
slowly growing like rust inside the walls.

Marcus Whalbring is the author of A Concert of Rivers from Milk & Cake Press, as well as How to Draw Fire from Finishing Line Press and Just Flowers from Crooked Steeple Press. A graduate of the MFA program at Miami University, his poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in, Strange Horizons, Space & Time, Illumen, The Dread Machine, Abyss & Apex, Spaceports and Spidersilk, Cortland Review, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Spry, and Underwood Press, among others. He’s a high school teacher, a father, and a husband. You can connect with him via twitter at and learn more about his work at

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