When the apocalypse comes,
I’ll write my grocery lists
in ash on the fallout shelter walls. I didn’t mean to say ash.
I meant to say something more forgivable, something held fragilely
like an antique phrase,
like spring’s tides of marigold, something to be replaced
at an undetermined date.
My tailor covers the indifference of our minutes with aphorisms and his royal use of we—
“we gain more from restraint than profligacy”—, his wrinkle-bound face upturned,
begging me to differ,
his hand wagging the needle like an obscenity,
pricking my conscience
with his unrepentant compassion. Which is only fitting.
One time he told me that, no matter who we are, there’ll come a time
when someone wants to sleep with us, and there’ll come a time
when someone takes a knife to us,
and most likely it’ll be the same person— but I was staring at one of his mannequins as he adjusted my cuffs,
and the bell over the door chimed, heralding his next appointment.
Stephen Priest has an MFA in poetry from the University of Florida, and his poems (sometimes under the pseudonym Gergen Manstoff) have appeared in 32 Poems, The Agriculture Reader, Birmingham Poetry Review, Barrow Street, cellpoems, Juked, and Subtropics, among others. The manuscript these poems are culled from has been a runner-up for the 2014 Cleveland State Poetry Center First Book Award; a semi-finalist for the 2016 and 2017 Vassar Miller Prizes, and a finalist for the 2018 one; a finalist for the 2017 Lost Horse Press Idaho Poetry Prize; a finalist for the 2017 and 2019 Marsh Hawk Poetry Prizes; and a finalist for the 2019 Inlandia Hilary Gravendyk Prize.