Jeff Halbert

Country: United States
Language(s): English


These are your eyes. They are two doors
opening inward, two identical selves
reclined side-by-side. They are the world
negotiated as a flesh, order humming,
soft moons stranded in their orbits.

They are sweet, finely-layered onions:
the wet film of the cornea, the lens,
the hazel iris dotted by a shrunken pupil;
behind, the retinas flutter their tentacles
backwards, cutting like lasers. The gravity.

They’re heavy with color, vocabulary
fields lit up at dusk, undressed bodies,
your own sad reflection in the mirror.
They’ve seen the grin on your own mother’s face
the moment her eyes absorbed shadow.

Before you die, I’d like to unhook them,
preserve them in a peach jar, label them
only eyes. I’d save them on the shelf
for the next man. When he finds them,
fixes them into his hollow face,

rubs them gently into focus with the back
of his hand, he will cry, “yes, your loss
is clear.” And the faint bulb above,
struggling for wattage in its final hour
will persist with light to watch.


Before the first scratch of light,
I lace my shoes & stretch
my muscles in order—
hamstrings, calves, groin—
& run. I run with long,
purposeful strides
watching the moonlit asphalt
stream under me. I’ve memorized
the names of these streets:
left on Long Gun, Mission,
Noyes beyond the bend.
I recognize the cars—some parked
& gutted, the rusted entrails
huddled in the driveways.
I know the houses too. As a boy,
I stood under the empty frames
listening to my voice echo,
name-calling. I’ve fidgeted
at the kitchen tables
as half-drunk fathers berated me.
I know which windows
keep lit all night
for woken children swimming
down the hallways. I know
the surfaces on which I run,
oil stains & scraped curbs
& manhole covers playing
home-base. I know how to quench
the urge of getting away,
the balance & the order
of stepping forward,
here to there, breathing repetitiously.
Cold sweat. Rhythm.


Am I ahead of myself yet—
or worse, falling behind,
legs & arms flailing to catch up?
Am I outside my mortal box
building & rebuilding myself,
lungs burning with air?

Or have I arrived
without my knowing, the man
I imagined myself to be
before the gates flung open
& my running?


From my Sunday house full of cracks
with gunpowder in the attic,
I slam all doors as I go,
I board the windows tornado-tight.
I shatter my only lantern
against imaginary trees.
My footprints evaporate behind me.
When dead faces block my path,
I stomp their manipulated smiles
with my Nike air-pumped shoes.
I have you. I’m satisfied
with leaving & never returning.
My umbilical chain unreels
spliced with razor-sharp links.


Run when you want to.
Run when the woman you sleep with
wakes up shining.
Run before the wounds are freshly opened
& the gardeners rush in.
Run from bedrooms thick with cigarette smoke,
ice-cubes rattling in a glass,
hospital beds & unshaved priests,
& torrential voices that resonate through walls.
Run like a child holding a pinecone in your hand.
Run alone, as fast as your legs
let you, in a field at night
tripping over the folds you never see.


I’m closing in on destination,
closure. I sense it—
the slick gravity of an icicle,
or the punch of the ocean
as the swells collapse.
I’m not scared of what’s to come.
The rivers & estuaries
coursing through my body
move me forward. I sense it—
directive, the gelling of a moment.
Like wind & water filling up the eye.
Like stopping.