Susannah Habecker © 2018

Susannah Habecker © 2018

by Ross White

Portrait of My Father as One Cent

of the National Debt


Solitude, in him, rattled for years like a charm bracelet,
its weight easy to ignore, like spider webs in the attic,
like the woman who raised him, retiring to her room
at the back of the house as his mother, upstairs, set
her curlers before bed. He could, lazily, stroll

the promenade arm in arm with his loneliness
more easily than with a beautiful girl. He could nurture it
like a daughter, delivering it to soccer games, endless errands.
His loneliness mushroomed, like magma it seeped
into the shape of every abandoned corner, clogged

forgotten crevices. It hardened, obsidian and slick,
reflective like a disco mirror ball in the club
where he’d sprayed, to conceal the rusting scent of his heart,
colognes and sloshed into himself bitter drinks
and strutted and pumped but still gone home alone.

But how is that a story? Stars for millennia blazed
brilliant orange then collapsed. Planetary crusts shifted
and in tectonic time groaned. Galaxies swirled violet
and blue before dusts settled, ceased. Nightly, the woman
who raised him prayed, then extinguished her light.


mission: impossible

I never until now understood the allure of Hollywood the unsettling need
to be someone else to be for a few hours an international spy for a few others
a young woman in a terrible remote cabin but since I’ve felt numb to the joys

of rhododendron of walking a path through sweetgum and spruce
I’ve come to accept that escape is a function of doubt do the sweetgums escape
do the spruces or maples do they dream themselves into the bodies of foxes

traipse through the forest admiring their legs pluck cherries and swallow
the whole pitted fruit does the spy in the movie when the projector flickers off
dream of being a barber or filing his taxes does the young woman bleeding

her way through the forest when she’s finally vanquished her grizzled attacker
dream of being a waterfall would you call that escape my mother calls from Colorado
to tell me to meditate she says I want you to be present I’m not present I say

already drifting into time I climbed a mountain in West Virginia to its peak
sat crosslegged just listened the sound of the mountain was no other sound
but my heartbeat I was for a moment the mountain but mostly I’m numb

to the joys of nuthatch song red columbine wild pumpkin I watch movies
I’m trying to remove all obstacles to joy trying like a spy in my own body
to infiltrate the morning trying like the fox dreaming of becoming a placid lake

Ross White’s poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, New England Review, Tin House, and The Southern Review, among others. He is the author of two chapbooks, How We Came Upon the Colony and The Polite Society, and teaches creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswhite.