Prayer to Mercury

By Justin Jannise

The moon, full the night before he died.
The neighbor’s old golden retriever approached the cyclone fence,
sat and watched the nurses enter and leave,
turned silver
in moonlight, and howled
its long, sad howl.

Fourth-of-July gunshots echoed through morning.
The pact I’d made to keep myself at home glued to the phone’s abrupt news
wavered,
and I allowed a man in
where I vowed no god, after you, would enter.

Your planet in retrograde,
twisting letters around:

I told Christine how I’d taken to staring at still flies

on museum websites—
camera light bouncing off the dimpled flesh of a pear,
dotted on long ago by a Renaissance sponge and sprinkle of salt.

I told Emily I’d sent off for a new gun
instead of a new rug

—the click of the revolving chamber—

the floor, where I told her I’d keep it,
opening a tile to reveal a hidden drawer.

Repast at ten this morning, my sister texted,
and then overrode the autocorrect:
He past.

He passed. (Erased, the table I’d pictured
laid out with aluminum dishes, gravy boats,
and heirloom pitchers, fogged and full.)

My mother, silent for hours after that.

Me, afraid to call her.

You, who have become lifelike,
give me a word for the slow death of 70 years of memory,
so slow we all got sick
of watching it rot,

watching ourselves flicker from talking dolls
into irrecoverable shadow.

He, past.

Change dead into dear. Change hated into heated.

Give me back the gold I was promised
when I agreed to try to live
as long as promisable.


Justin Jannise is the author of How to Be Better by Being Worse, which won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from BOA Editions, Ltd., in April 2021.

Originally published in NOR 29.

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