Issue 22: James Byrne



Give up. So I give up. Smoke the root. In Dan’s shed, we said to Jimmy if he smoked it down in a minute until it said BENSON we’d give him £100. He did, but we heard nothing we said. Said if you blow a smokering through a smokering and post a picture you’d have a lifetime supply. Jimmy puffing like a hooked fish, the camera flashbulbing around his sweaty neck.

Grappled inhaler asking why, why.

You were in the way like cars in traffic and I wanted to know how someone else could fall apart. You were fete entertainment, the straw hand, and I was mistrustful of houses, the sturdiness of mountains. We meet now, immingling between the living and the dead like sores in a cemetery. Matchbox, strike the tarry ashtray. The heart, once a fortress, sieged, sinks.


I write to you like an unarmed gunsler in plain sight.

Go back to yourself. Runaway convict with a cashier’s head for business—

              your last letter like someone divided   at birth.

What kind of meat have you cooked into now?

As if you never asked what consciousness is made from

                            and might absolve yourself under the sun.

              A swaddled cradle. A dipper’s thirst.

              You speak, you haggle, it is the same.

Consistent as a coin           

in the rust of empire—

                                                        you would bid for the wind

                                                        if you knew where it lived.


A banana is not a cigarette.

A banana is a B6-loaded berry. 

Three bananas a day will not save you.

He used to walk in the room with his fly open and a banana hanging out.

The so-called banana statesmen living off the big apple.

Smoked banana skins won’t get you high.

A communal banana is never lonely.

I am going bananas you said, and so it proved.

You tear a banana from its hand, close the kitchen door and leave the room.



They changed my name and you were gone.

Darkness slid into the weight of a stone.

The years fossilize. The man unwinding

a car window asks us both to get in. Robin

in the front, me in the back and your silhouette,

brooding but silent, like some abdicated god. 

I’m … Terry. Your father … Remember me?

We nod, but I don’t, quite. The nervechord blue

of your eyes scan, as if for an answer.

They changed my name, they changed your

name—Pratso we called you. The shame

in my voice as we laughed from Amersham

to home. If you want, just call me Dad…

I don’t know about you, but I need a cigarette.

You breathe in the edge of air, the sprawling

distance of trees. One day this will mean something.


Left brain            a family of skin.

Right brain         severance intersected.

We meet for a while. Do not meet.

I peel from the blue light of your body

into this black square of thinking,

where what is held holds nothing.

Between sea and seafoam,

between sleep and sleepwalking,

I move, on the edge of Europe,

Towards nobody, towards you.

James Byrne’s most recent poetry collections are Everything Broken Up Dances (Tupelo, US, 2015) and White Coins (Arc Publications, UK, 2015). He was the editor of The Wolf, an influential, internationally-minded literary magazine between 2002 and 2017. He co-edited I am a Rohingya, the first book of Rohingya refugee poems in English.

He is the co-editor of Atlantic Drift: An Anthology of Poetry and Poetics (Edge Hill University Press/Arc, 2017) and Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, published by Bloodaxe in 2009. The Caprices , a response to Fransisco Goya's 'Los Caprichos', is due from Arc in September 2019.

Copyright © 2019 by James Byrne, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.