Morning Commute with Revenant

Read by the author.


by James McKee

Featured Art by Courtney Bennett


You know how it is: going in to work,

Who looks at anything? You’re late, it’s cold,

hot, raining, no buses again, whatever.

You’re long past fighting this fast-forward blur,

pure A-to-B time, better numbed than bored.


But then the street-views you sluice through slow and lock:

some old warehouse abutting a blacktop lot.

high up this soot-caked chainlink fence

that nets, for no one else, blank swaths of sky,

there juts forth a sawn-off sumac branch,

em dash black and cocked at ten-to-three.


See it first, since you must, as a quenched torch,

a club hanging half-swung,

or someone’s bony forearm thrust through the mesh,

lopped at wrist and elbow, and left as a warning.

Fine. But you’re not one to confuse

fancied-up musings with the truth:

one hapless stick is all the chainsaw left

the day someone decided

this tree—a weed that wedged upwards from

the cracks its seed happened among,

that rose against the traffic-ravaged air,

that pierced that fence and knuckled this pavement up—

had to come down.

Rough cobblestones plug the square yard

where its raw stump once weathered anvil-hard;

no doubt the sheared-off roots still grip

deep undertiers of pipe and stone.


A passing siren’s wave-crest flushes you

back in the churning surf of city noise,

but by now it’s too late:

you’ve gone and glimpsed that voided silhouette,

you’ve heard, in its tousling leaves’ soundless hiss,

another of those random sidewalk elegies

work alone can dismiss

And not because it isn’t true,

because it is.




A New Yorker by birth (and likely by death), James McKee enjoys failing in his dogged attempts to keep pace with the unrelenting cultural onslaught of late-imperial Gotham.  After college he held a number of ludicrously unsuitable jobs before spending over a decade as a teacher and administrator at a small special-needs high school. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Acumen, The Raintown Review, Saranac Review, The South Carolina Review, THINK, The Midwest Quarterly, Xavier Review, and elsewhere. He currently works as a private tutor and spends his free time, when not writing or reading, traveling less than he would like and brooding more than he can help.

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