Jason Ryberg

Precious as Porcelain (or, Bathtub Virgin for a Shallow Grave)

Heard she joined a convent somewhere in France or

            Spain when she was just a kid. Thought she

            wanted to be a saint or something.

Heard they were a front for the mob or the CIA or 

            even the Illuminati, they say.

Heard she got recruited into the inner circle of the 

            organization, to be trained as an elite,

            world-class assassin.

Heard the headmistress told her every day that she 

            was as precious as porcelain, that she’d be perfect

             because no one would ever suspect her.

Heard that’s the last thing you heard before everything

            went black, with a foot on your chest then two

            in the face: why, you’re just as precious as porcelain.

Heard she did that for twenty years, until one day

            it became one kill too many and she just

            walked away.

Heard she disappeared from it all, went on the run and

            off the grid of an underworld that was already

            off the grid.

Heard there was a price on her head.

Heard there were sightings in Mogadishu, Bangladesh

            and Bangor, Maine.

Heard anyone who went looking was never

            heard from again.

Heard some hotshot looking to make a name

            got a hot tip.

Heard this fool came calling one day, looking for 

            vengeance or to claim the bounty or maybe

            even try to pull her back into the life.

Heard she invited him in for tea and cookies and a

            little talk about the weather, and now that

            sorry son of a bitch is buried in her backyard

            garden, in a shallow grave beneath a bathtub

            virgin, feeding the worms and microbes

            and thirsty shoots and rootlets of Marigolds,

            Tulips and Daylilies …

            Precious as porcelain.

The Gift Of Fire (Or, Kansas City To Raleigh In 24 Hours Or Less)

for Will Leathem, Ed Tato and Mark Hennessy

The night is long and in full-effect

and there’s nothing but bad radio, stale coffee

and a bright, five-battery-flashlight of a moon

that’s been keeping a steady pace with us

ever since it came out from behind the clouds.

Sometime around 4am we barely miss

most of what must have been a buffalo or bear:

a meandering trail of animal and automotive viscera

visible, here and there, for nearly a mile along the road.

But we keep on keeping-on, anyway,

with a suddenly renewed and invigorated sense of purpose,

the radio low and everyone in the car suddenly

adrenalized, awake and alert for anything else

the universe might unexpectedly hurl our way

(be it deer, cop, phantom hitch-hiker

or 24-hour truck stop).

But, inevitably, we are forced to answer

nature’s shrill and relentless call

and pull our (clearly ill-advised and

poorly planned) cross-country pilgrimage

over to the side of the highway

(where there surely must be

all manner of nightmarish caricatures

and creatures lurking just out of reach

of the lone, guttering torch of our dome light).

And it would appear that we have

officially arrived at that time of night

(inversely proportionate to however many miles

one is away from home and how many miles

one still has left to go)

when the far-off / way-out voices

of hell-fire preachers and UFO abductees

crackle and whisper, in and out,

of the troughs and peaks of static

foaming from the car’s stereo speakers,

out and out into the great, starry firmament

surrounding us,

when the icy breath of the cosmos whispers

dirty jokes and grand unifying conspiracies

at the backs of our necks,

when unsettling thoughts and inexplicable intuitions

of eternal recurrence begin to smolder and smoke

inside our minds and we just know, somehow,

that we’ve all been here before, right here,

on this very spot (or one indistinguishable from it),

same time of dark, eerie, pre-dawn morning,

pissing in a ditch by the side of a highway,

and everyone of us can’t help but contemplate,

however briefly, at least some of the great,

existential / metaphysical mysteries and conundrums

that have stalked our species ever since that

evolutionary leaping-off point of no return

when we discovered that for all its many gifts,

fire is still the orginator of the long

snaky shadows that it casts

and causes the dark around us

to grow only


Published 12-17-17

Jason Ryberg is the author of twelve books of poetry, six screenplays, a few short stories, several angry letters to various magazine and newspaper editors, and a box full of folders, notebooks and scraps of paper that could one day be (loosely) construed as a novel. He is currently an artist-in-residence at both The Prospero Institute of Disquieted P/o/e/t/i/c/s and the Osage Arts Community. He lives part-time in Kansas City, with a rooster named Little Red and a billy goat named Giuseppe, and part-time somewhere in the Ozarks, near the Gasconade River, where there are also many strange and wonderful woodland critters.