Five Poems by Nick Flynn

Photo: © Stefan Hengst. All rights reserved.


I admit you haven’t heard from me
in a while. In me there’s a little liar.
And a little thief. And a little whore.
Forgive me—while writing these words
I was lost in a trance . . . the sky wild
blue, fruit trees jeweled with ice
. . . if not

for what I’d promised, I wouldn’t be here
at all. You were with me when I found that
box in the basement—opening it was like
entering a room & having (at last!) someone else
breathe for me. No one, as you know,
sets out to lose their mind. This poem began
as a secret—not from you, I didn’t know you

then. Now, it wears its shame like a halo.
Please, take it, rip it up, put it in your glass.
We can watch it dissolve.

Horse Thief

I’ve been wandering this
desert so long, then

another shitty little town

appears, which I mistake
(again) for an

oasis. Out
front of the saloon, a few

horses hitched up—
scrawny, mismatched

horses. O Lord, I whisper,
be my lookout, as I un-

hitch the healthiest-looking one
& simply ride

off. Long

ago, when I quit drinking
(the first time), I heard that if,

as a drunk, you were a good

horse thief, you’d be a better
horse thief

sober. I took this

as one of the promises of
sobriety. Now,

each night, my hands
come alive, hum out

sparks. Some, I hear, want
to be caught—I swear

I just want the horse.


or the day after, I’ll press my

mouth to your scar & run
my tongue along it

so I can taste how you were once
opened, so I can know where

you never closed. Each

scar’s a door, we know
that—I want to whisper into

yours, I want my hands

to hover over it, I want you
to whisper please

I want you (please please please)
to beg for it.


This word, almost impossible
to pronounce,

means thisness, as in here
& now,
as in

avoid the illusion
there can be any lack
. In

the end I held your arms briefly
over your head &

warned that I was in no way
safe, that I’m not here

to save anyone, by which I meant
we could easily go

farther, by which I meant
I’m often not filled with any great love

for—of—God. But I

saw then, briefly & wholly, your
thisness, like

beeswax, it
filled me. If we’d gone farther I

don’t think I’d feel any shame, no,
it’d still be in the realm of

pure, if no longer so easy to contain

As I Lay Dying

The dead
mother, remember how even she

gets to speak, how

words go straight up in
a thin line, quick & harmless

except when they aren’t, harmless
I mean

& how terribly
doing goes along the earth, clinging

to it? Remember

how happy it made us—the clinging
sometimes I swear it’s all

I am—clinging, bodiless, air. Doing,
yes, clings more to the earth, but

maybe these words can work as
tethers, maybe they can be

part of the tending.

Poet and memoirist Nick Flynn has worked as a ship’s captain, an electrician, and as a case-worker with homeless adults. His most recent book is My Feelings, a collection of poems. In 2019, two new books will appear: Stay, a collection of collaborations and writings, as well as I Will Destroy You, a collection of poems. He is also the author of three memoirs, including Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award and was adapted to film as Being Flynn. His website is

Appears In

Issue 5

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