Free Boat: Collected Lies and Love Poems

Free Boat: Collected Lies and Love Poems

by John Reed





I'm afraid that child isn't here anymore.

He left on the fog from last February,

taking with him his red fireman hat,

his parents, all torn to rags and once loved,

and two good eyes that were scared of monsters.

Now, from the inside of this gold foil birdcage,

I—as if I, I am I no more—

live as a ground meat burger, without rages,

or a past, or those hundred other doors.

Child, if you come back, bring your baseball glove,

and all three of your red bicycles, and

cut me down if I can't see the sky,

if I can't see that sky again, of ours,

send for your slayers, send for your slayers.­


73 (French kiss)

Maybe you can lie your way out of this.  

You know I’ve always admired your lying.

Someone like you, doesn’t need to slam doors,

or stomp feet, or throw the remote control.

Someone like you leaves craters everywhere.

Someone like you kicks holes in the sidewalk,

even if her shoes don’t fit, even if

she runs on the tippy toes of her claws.

You think you haven’t tied me in your hair?

Go ahead, just you go ahead and pull.

You can cut through me like a nest of wire.

You can gather up your elfin ribbons.

But lie to me, liar, with a French kiss.



I keep waking up in this burlap sack.

I'm on the edge of the Hudson River.

There are rocks in the bag with me.

I'm naked, so I hop back to my place.

My wife is upstairs, working with the ropes,

which she says she needs for an art project.

The other day, I found these two buckets,

with my feet in them.  I was on the couch,

and the rug was vacuumed, and if I traipsed

around in wet cement, I'd have to clean up.

So I waited, tested with my finger—

and when the cement set, firm but tacky,

I dragged to the tub and turned on the tap.


34 (one for the team)

We are all children here—against the wall

of the gymnasium—smelling of fat,

waiting for our turns, bellied with futures.

Nobody knows how and we're all afraid

of the principal, who doesn't love us,

who prefers the other group of children,

who waves us to the foul line, the ashes,

and gives us our punishments, one by one.

We know better than to cry or complain

and stand like the nurse tells us, lips sutured,

wondering if we're really that bad.

As best we can, chest out, heads straight and tall,

shaking from the shower of gasoline,

we strike the match, and take one for the team.


32 (paean)

We of waste, waisted we, who would squander

sorrow, squander the rich trash, the morning grinds,

the pears over-ripened in the fruit bowls—

for we are gardenless in Eden,

naked in the shadow of forbidden trees—

we, who would lower our child gaze, to age,

to fall unwinged from heaven's favor, seized

with cheeks of grief and mouths of bitter sage,

should we not stake our spite, grow weeds in bins,

to praise creation, render heaven whole,

and sow eternal mercies of our strife?

Wastes tended, pears halved, in an alms of rapture:

is it not to us to ivy the arbor?


Author of the novels, A Still Small Voice (Delacorte Press / Delta), The Whole (Simon & Schuster / Pocket / MTV Books), the SPD bestseller, Snowball's Chance (Roof Books / Melville House), All The World's A Grave: A New Play By William Shakespeare (Penguin Books / Plume), and Tales of Woe (MTV Press); Free Boat: Collected Lies and Love Poems is forthcoming from C&R Press (October, 2016); fellowship Columbia University; MFA in Creative Writing, Columbia University; published in (selected) Artnet, the Brooklyn RailTin HousePaper Magazine, Artforum, HyperallergicBomb MagazineArt in America, the PEN Poetry Series, the Los Angeles Times, the Believer, the Rumpus, the Daily Beast, Gawker, Slate, the Paris ReviewPlayboyOut Magazine, the Times Literary Supplement, the Wall Street JournalElectricLit, Vice, the New York TimesHarper's; works translated into German, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Korean, Latvian and others; performances, workshops and readings of plays in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, including at the Public Theater in NYC and the Brooklyn Books Festival; two-term member of the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle; current faculty at The New School University and The New York Arts Program.