This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by John James. 



Caked in medicinal mud, we scream
at each other in a language

no one on the beach can understand.
Your father loiters, turns the gold hand

of his American watch, digs his feet
into the sand. Somewhere in the distance

a lemon tree’s lemons drink in the sun,
convert hard light to citrus

which later you squeeze on your fish
as you tell me again how sorry you are,

that the yelling was childish, and you regret
that you still have to end it.

Mud on your shoulder dries into cracks.
The smudge on your face—ovular,

like a stretched mole—splits into fragments
of dirt. The mud removes impurities,

sucks germs from choked pores.
A dead scab, you brush it from your cheek.

These days, looking out at the bleached billboards,
or the rows of jacarandas lining the street,

I hardly have cause to remember.
Charred cars in Venezuela dominate the news.

Whatever your argument was,
and it must have been a good one—

eight years gone and still we don’t speak—
the mud did nothing to enhance your point.



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).