All Articles by Tristen Merchant

Remember that one?

Do you remember

That school shooting

In that specific state

Where that deranged killer

Massacred those innocent victims?


It was the one when

He just unloaded

Countless magazines

From his AR-15



It was the one that

Nobody saw coming.


It was the one that

There was no way to stop.


Do you remember that one?

After the Party

When you’re around,

I call my ghosts by their first names

because you don’t believe in them and I’m determined to prove

we can exist together.


Sometimes you ask me to read

out loud to you and I imagine myself

opening my mouth

and a thousand voices spill into cupped hands.

I imagine myself

speaking another language

while you nod along and draw circles in the sheets.


When we go out, I want to ask all the people at the bar

if they want to meet them, but you

squeeze my hand and tell me I look good,

but uncomfortable

so here’s another drink,

let’s sit down, relax.

Look at the lights.

Look at how they shine through their skin.

This is what

translucency must be like.


Yesterday, you watched me undress and said

ghosts don’t have bodies

so I must be real.

I offer you my breath,

but you can’t swallow it.

My Heart is a Gun

My heart is a gun.
I have a permit, but it makes you nervous
when you see my gun in public.
You’re certain there’s a bullet with
your name on it,
but the bullet’s for me.
Any minute now your name will be
in my brain forever.

Can a bomb come from the heart?
Is my heart a bomb?
Are you going to label me
a terrorist for feeling something?
My heart doesn’t pump blood.
It pumps lead. It does not beat.
It explodes and leaves behind
heart-shaped shrapnel.

You say to take it easy
and you don’t want any trouble.
You ask me to get rid of the thing
before someone gets hurt
I’ve tried that.
I hid it in a hole
in my mattress.

I locked it away in a lock box.
I put a flower in its barrel
every day.
I’ve spent nights emptying
the magazine into the air.
It’s too damn late.


Mid-spring, we’d step into our magnolias,

branches like a many-armed justice, dark

columned trunks brandishing the drilled-

in patterns of woodpeckers. They held us

as we stretched our wildly bruised legs,

leaned exhaustion against their beams,

sorting the mysteries of our boyhoods,

the mingled lies of parents and priests.


Our wrestled explorations with the body

were enough of a savage life, yet it must

have been our play that urged sweetness

through the knotty limbs in host-colored

flowers, the saved lightening of our long,

stunning summers, near-cloying blooms

older than bees, each a bright fruit skin

browned overnight by the moon’s agile


eye. These sad summers, magnolias no

longer witness the red seeds of secrets,

Kids have places to be that are not trees.

I look into their emptiness. Their fallen

leaf tiles of baked terra cotta scream out

when stepped on, such noise, giving me

away to neighbors who return hellos as

I walk by with Earl, children piling up


along our lives.

Around the World

Ruminations on Picasso’s Guernica

How quick the damned

of Guernica

try to flee the asymmetry

of casualty

and the fire’s opened mouth

masticating at their jagged flesh,

how congruent the geometry

of one hundred thousand pounds of explosive ordinance

tessellating into them

like bread,

leavened with yeast and soured with corruption,

being thrown into a crowd

eighty years away:

arms outstretched, salivary glands

churning, waiting for what must enter the mouth—

how quick the mashed bread

snakes through an esophagus

into a deflated gut,

as fast as photons

travel from the floodlight

to the banner of the Ayatollah.

A Short Movie

I’m brushing my hair and my friends have guns
in their mouths. They’re making knots
of barrels, sucking
bullets – they’re flirting with me,
all of them.          They wink, use tongues
to pull triggers.

The dead friends stand and new friends drop
out of dead friends’ mouths.
The new ones talk:

Happy to see you,
Happyto       seeyou              happy.

I am brushing my hair. There is no
blood. Nothing to clean or look
away from. The new friends have
guns. Have big mouths.

They point guns to the ground
and shoot. There is dust and we are
happy. Covered in it.

An Old Jew Hearing Der Ring After Many Years of Silence 

Woden, mad berserk and hopeless drunk,

Whose revenging dreams stalked that soma—

That mead of poetry, that dark and esoteric truth—

Gave a superstitious eye to prefigure even the ravens.

There’s blood in mead. Only sight can trade for sight.


Like the wax which screams at the weight of a needle,

Transcribing truth upon the air only

At a small cost.


A truth so painful it pilots my brain back

To the red roofs and the blue ink

Transcribed on bodies

Screaming at the weight of a needle

Like a great human record.


So when, with my one good eye,

I see the young blackshirts parading through the night,

Black on black, the ravens and I

See too the ghost of Wagner.

A Natural History of the Mind

I create islands in my mind


according to random whims.


I conjure biomes and terrains,

raw landscapes

of saw tooth mountains cross-cut

with indiscriminate rivers

ejecting boulders and dragonfish

over basalt cliffs to a primordial ocean

by the second,


lands where strife unfolds

in its unremarkable forms

of predation on winter-stricken highlands

and hunger

on drought-dead plains


swept with dust,

low and abiding,

unfurling headlong

before the rain.



I imagine lava rock teardrops

tossed across the sea like


where a goatherd tends a flock

on club moss

among tortoise shells and pine cones


as salt dissolves

cairn stones, atom by atom,

cobbled haphazardly

atop a battered headland

beside a sun-bleached femur


above the gorge where, once,

eyes opened one dawn to dust

and light

shot through with the swell and crash

of time’s shore.


the unfortunate – sadmen – my gas station earrings – you didn’t see the future in hints –


the world exploded at the kitchen sink – left daffodil stems – colliding into – stacked


disappointments – collections of memories per person – tabs on where we’d end – liked


gas station earrings – the world – ran home – curled in new disappointment – cut sadmen


– you didn’t pay attention

Shut Up or Sing

I abhor the noncommittal
crooners of the world,

housing hummingbirds
behind dentin bars

and vibrant lips where
their languid tongues lie

heavy-laden with forgotten
lyrics and flat notes.

Shut up or sing.

Expand your diaphragm
and lyrical vocabulary

and release the deadened
songbird locked within your

ribcage. Exchange your
borrowed breath with the

wind, fly your passerine kite
and bawl your warbled squall.