John Gallaher

Three Poems
September 24, 2021 Gallaher John

Encounter in the New World (Architecture 33)
Being adopted means I have options on “The Meaning of Your Name”
day. It was Enquist for a few years. “Juniper + twig.” I was once
a twig of juniper. For more, I’m referred to “inquisitive”
and “exquisite” as something to hold or follow. My parents divorced
early on, so I might’ve reverted to her father’s name, Gorman,
which is “dark blue,” meaning “noble.” Or maybe it’s “spear”
and “protection,” or maybe a triangular piece of land or a mountain.
It’s about people to talk to, why we keep loving the future, passing
the time. We’re clocks, as the time I broke my arm, the future saying
there’s a window and you might flicker by a triangular patch
of juniper on the mountainside where my birth mother, after I left,
married into the Graff family, and maybe I would’ve become that,
a quill, or pen. Here’s the deal, we say. Because everything floats off,
it’s OK if we repeat ourselves. So I’m writing now
of mountains of juniper under deep blue skies. It’s how I say
I love this world. Your name abides. It carries you and follows you
like a shipwreck, the manifest, logs, and trinkets catalogued.
You have to do your business while you’re here
because no one ever comes back. It’s winter. My skin
is dry. I scratch it and bleed. I have red stripes down my legs
I don’t remember making, that don’t hurt, that I’ve never had
before. My thin skin. Newly thinned. And I want it to mean more
than wandering grocery aisles, reading ingredient lists,
preparation rituals, in the context of others, nation, neighborhood,
family, that maybe there’s a core you somewhere,
and it’s a rare jewel or maybe it’s a mirror or just another surface,
a hollow sound coming from the Muzak system,
the kind of exhalation I remember from when my uncle died,
a Gallaher, which comes from “foreign help,” or “one
who loves what’s foreign,” as I’ve been many lost things,
we’ve all been many lost things, the broken windows
of the church, the stones of the church scattered across
the sleeping fields. In this way it becomes an idea. Ideas
make a kind of music. And words are the ruins of that place.


Your Sport (Architecture 58)
“You should write a book about it,” Margo says when she hears
I’m my own second cousin, though, in general, the story’s not rare,
people flip around families all the time. Margo herself
has a theory maybe she’s really her own cousin.
Her mother’s tall, dark hair, angular, and Margo’s short, blonde,
and looks like her mother’s younger sister
who would’ve been a teenager when she was born. “Someday,” she says,
“they’ll fess up.” I wonder if she means it, or if this
is the joke, where “Ha!” we say, one sibling to another,
“you’re really adopted, and your real father is
[insert name of creepy neighbor].” There’s this t-shirt I like,
that I see around on runners, it goes:
That’s a good adoptee t-shirt idea: My condition in this world
is your punishment, terrifying revelation, punchline.
Maybe there could be check boxes.
Choose one.

For a time I imagine my brother
is anyone. My sister is anyone. My mother is every woman I pass
on the way to a coffee shop. It makes a good transition scene.
I’ll name it The Charnel House, because that sounds
like it could be the name of a coffee shop,
“Charnel House Coffee,” but it’s funny, right,
because a charnel house is really a vault
of leftover bones. Bastard bones.
We sort them into boxes, call it unity. I can’t stop.
It’s like cutting pictures from magazines: box of houses, box
of people running, box of jokes,
as if I’ve done nothing but this my whole life.


In the Prayer of Quiet One Erases All Things (Architecture 83)
In today’s meeting we are to compare and rank our trauma, winner
gets a blue ribbon and a goldfish. It slaps you. The walls of glass. Glass
figures. I’m talking with Kate, and find myself obvious, working
a theme. I’ve become an advertisement, and in the next scene
I’ll say I’m getting past it, that the very act of phoning it in
is the deep dive, the surface glittering past the surface
all the way down, like an actor in a Renaissance painting, pointing
to a symbol, vista, or figure. Honesty, the bandage, a three-thousand-
foot bandage that, as I wrap it across myself, will cause great winds
throughout the Midwest. They’ll step from their condos
in the Kansas City plaza with the cries of birds,
and say, “John is changing his bandage!” We’ll understand weather
as a poetics, full of doting clouds and outdated perfume. My mother
would wake me up singing “Good morning, good mooooorrning!”
and I hated it. Now she’s gone, and I wake the kids
singing, “Good morning, good mooooorning!” One fewer “r”
in morning. It’s how I’m an original. The answer to the question
‘Is it nature or nurture?’ is ‘Yes.’ Today I went for a drive.
They’ve just put up a wind farm in the cornfields north of town.
I feel it’s been there forever, blinking red lights. “The dancer
is the distance between language and metaphor” is what I should
say, but I say “I’m my own second cousin! Let me tell you the story!”
I turn, and they’ve just put up a windfarm to the south of town.
“I’m related to this chart and graph, once removed!” I’m a mystic
of the colors beige, gray, and taupe. In my theory of the universe
all adopted people are a secret family. We meet in dreams,
and understand belonging. We come together, each to each,
in the lacquer garden. It’s like that feeling of falling I get
on balconies. I don’t know why it’s like that, but it’s like that.
You see it on the horizon, Zhuang Zhou says in the Zhuangzi,
as perhaps a galloping heat haze or swirl of dust. We are each
the living creature blown aloft on that breath of air,
our rocket ship soul, and the song goes, “Memoria rerum,
memoria verborum,” vagabonding memory and image.
Or is it just the distance going on and on that looks that way?

John Gallaher is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Brand New Spacesuit, and the co-author of two. His forthcoming collection, My Life in Brutalist Architecture, with be out in 2024 from Four Way Books. He lives in northwest Missouri, and co-edits the Laurel Review.