John Colburn

John Colburn
WHAT   WE   KNEW   AND   WHAT   WE   DECIDED   AND   WHAT   WE   BUILT  (guerrilla  warfare)


We wanted to capture believers and untorture them.
We knew that money bent inside other money so
we decided to use a trapeze. What else could flicker?
Our roadblock flickered with ghouls and hoofbeats.
We sat still to watch the edgings of leaves.
Somewhere in our moonlight treks a drug culture
stalked invisible senators through the blackbird calls.
Treetops said wavebands. Our trapeze
was a timekeeper and it could trapeze anything.
We surrounded camp with our hoarded baby-sitter teeth.
Someone lit the pipe arm.
Maybe a ghoul girl missing her toothbrush.
Then we heard office chairs, the fatherland
sliding awake; we knew the motherland was everything.
We stalked the lobbyists through the whiteboards.
Shags moved easterner.
We knew invisible money light could flicker us awake too.
We needed a towrope.
None of us understood the woodpeckers.


We thought our daydream might flicker.
We knew that airship death bent inside their tremors.
Green leaves could flame into simple directives.
We needed to carry what they said through the toxin.
No one could turn backdrop ever.
We knew somewhere in the trenches republicans dangled meth lotion.
We decided to watch what was said through the toy.
We built an altimeter.
Someone lit a firebomb.
We heard forces somewhere in the ventricles
and saw daredevils inside light-years.
The faun slid into simulation.
Shallows moved ebb. The creosote flickered.
We built a small firecracker-in-waiting,
an altitude. Were we inside a bud? It was illegal.
Someone lit the firecracker in the trend-setters mope warehouse.
We decided to set a travesty.
Then for a while the motorbike was everything.
Our travesty was sin and it could travesty anything.
We built a small fire-eater-in-waiting,
we built a gigolo gland.
We heard singing from the fjords.


We knew deadlines in the guts
and eyewitnesses masked in handkerchiefs
and we knew trespassers and decided
now the motorcade film was everything.
Shame moved ecclesiastic.
A crest flickered and might have been gills
so we built a collection of gill glass.
We needed a walkabout.
We built a small republican-in-waiting.
Of course someone lit the republican.
We saw shining in the trestles and we sat still.
Green leaves could flicker into sinew.
We might need to carry what was said
down to the creek in our tracksuits.
Then we heard budget forecasts.
Somewhere in the wattage vomit flickered.
We sat still and our fears slid awake
and this time we needed a walkie-talkie.
A crewman signaled to our underground farm
and we surrounded the work stations.
Each guerilla picked up
an international observer hammer.
We were inside the warhead;
we were inside the republicans.
We talked smack and then struck.



prayer for dropouts

may you not wander into the empty trailer behind the warehouse, and may that
    boy’s face disappear from your memory; may that boy get old and balance
    branches on his head stupidly

may those four smeary men in the clearing not notice you, may their faces distort as
    they turn to look and may they see nothing

may the reflection of the soldier in the oily water turn to salt and may the soldier
    turn to salt

may you never stay in a FEMA trailer as any waters recede, as you wait for any
    wreckage to be cleared,

and may the tent city disappear, and may the people waiting there to hurt you

instead may many versions of you carry your burden into many houses and may the
    burdens be released

may this be a prayer of correct dosage and may flowery clouds excite you

and may you sit in lawn chairs drinking beer as darkness blurs the woods

and may you have visions of duke ellington at the piano and may those visions fill
    with colors and what will you see in the colors? may you see nothing but the
    colors themselves

and may the peacock step into your path and be still

and your drawing meant to signify alienation, may it signify alienation with such
    intensity that we are set free, that you are set free

and may your red wheelbarrow fill with meteorites and transparent cities

and if there is a filing cabinet that must burn for you, may we all concentrate
    together until it ignites

and may your campsite turn technicolor; may clouds over the swingset never
    appear apocaplytpic

instead may you see how the ferris wheel turns like a planet for you

and may your skirt fly up perfectly when you dance

may the grief-bearing flowers explode in their vases

may you lock the murky giant back in storage and later may you dance
    with a tree or are those trees, perhaps they are clouds

and when the bridge is out may you cross by riding on the back of the black dog

and may there be a small silver house waiting in the clouds, a house with one
    easy window through which you see you are in heaven

and when you dream may there be a fire in the center of the maze and may it warm
    you, may you burn down the maze and be free again

and may all the textbooks fall from their shelves and rot for you, and may the books
    become nests, and may the nests hold the birds you will become

and may the abandoned submarines wash up gently for this is a red world, a dream
    with many suns and when the water burns, may you know the fire from its
    reflection on the water, may you be discerning

and may you build a garden of flowered cloth in your room and may good people
    come to the room as if to a garden

and may red birds perch all across history and carry our karma though we are made
    of snakes and ears and many mouths and we are swallowed by flies

and may you forget the cartoon monsters chasing you down the road at twilight
    because that is memory

and instead may fire rise into magic carpets because why not

and may what grows from your body begin to green, may it not be dead or cracked
    may it be just starting to live

and may light hanging from the trees hypnotize you in the appropriate hour

and may you walk upon the graves and know you are walking upon the graves

may you see the path through the charcoal-crusted trees

and may the door to the other side not sink into the ground as it sometimes does

and may the signs not go empty

and may you never be trapped in the machine worlds of the industrial park where
    pipes clang and steam in blue light, not there, not in the control towers and
    not on the blinding floor of the machine

instead may you see the reflections float calmly downstream, may you see the quiet
    waters of the port but never that parking lot, never the white trailer with
    no tractor

and may there be an interim of explosive color against the backdrop of the void and
    may that instant be your life

and instead of boarded up windows, may singing clouds envelop your buildings
    in that desolate neighborhood

and may you be immersed in the lines of color, streaked thickly with them

and may the peacock’s wing be made of pills and may those pills be available to you

and may those two men guarding the warehouse in their thick coats keep their
    backs turned all of their cold lives

in fact may it just be a cardboard city that you invented and may you look
    through little windows the size of your fingernail

and may you see all the way to a clear river

and may you tread water there until you realize you are treading light, you,
    wherever you are, alone at the booth in an empty river town,
    buying a ticket for a movie which is also your life, a movie waiting for you
    to become its field of light

and may it be yours because the winters were hard and the runways iced over

and may you always watch the oak limbs paint colors in the air

and what if the meteorites in the wheelbarrow form a hat which you wear to the
    vanishing point

and what if the vanishing point is a mirror

and what if we have already burned that filing cabinet tonight with our minds

and again we see duke ellington, hands poised in your ray of light

and we see that boy try to turn into a lighthouse but we don’t let him

instead we build this campsite in our dreams

and it doesn’t matter if they are trees or clouds for our lives are dreams

and may you swim in the flooded Christmas tree farm because it is safe, because the
    giant sits now in storage and you may twirl your skirt again to the old
    dances, freely resonant beneath the blue ribbons and flowering trees

and we have banished that active boy to a plateau

we have written nothing on the dead trees to help him, he will grow up to
    stupidly balance branches on his head

but you will see the ferris wheel turn against the purple and orange sky at dusk
    and there will be no trash in the playground

instead a friendly buffalo will come to you and it will know everything, it will know
    what you did in the abandoned steel mill and it will not care

it is a buffalo and it is not going extinct

and if you feel it’s too quiet with the buffalo may there be a song

may the red birds sing for anyone trapped

and if you are inside the egg, may the birds come for you no matter how big
    the egg, even if it’s a planet

and when you hatch, may you be carried across the earth by a woman of feathers
    and drums

because she is the woman who wove the old world which she now balances
    casually on her head and you are free of it

and may you know how you got free

and may you receive this magic all the days of your life.



John Colburn is originally from Mantorville, MN, and is an editor and co-publisher at Spout Press. His first chapbook, Kissing, was published by Fuori Editions in 2002. A second chapbook, The Lawrence Welk Diaries, was published by WinteRed Press in 2006. His writing has also appeared in such journals as Fairy Tale Review, Uncanny Valley, Jubilat, Black Warrior Review, and Post Road. He works as a teacher at Hamline University and at the Perpich Center for Arts Education, and also plays in the improvised music group Astronaut Cooper’s Parade.

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