Two Poems by J. Tarwood

These two poems by J. Tarwood engage the clashing juxtapositions at the heart of our experience of the self: our present identity is as mysterious and hard to stitch together to us as the versions of our selves memory creates. “I lick/ white curling ice cream,/ past at my back, overlooking,/ overlooked.”

by: J. Tarwood

(After Fidalgo)

And diaries of those days
I desired to appear
misunderstood, sentences pronouncing
death, nasty gestures,
hammered pride, vengeance
like a Venn diagram,
craving like a coin toss.

Desperation of a young man
educating himself to see
when there’s nothing to see.

In diaries of those days
travel plans, notes about
Liguria and Sicily;
sentences performed: we
have always been alone; sentences
in Italian, in Portuguese—
to live in Lisbon, no radical
gesture, and I hate, I hate
so much you believe
you’ve got the truth.

Only one certainty: the people
I love are not mine.

In diaries of those days,
nothing about your beauty,
nothing about your smile,
nothing that can last.
In diaries of those days,
I am shattered into a multitude
of shards, each puzzling piece
certain it’s the key.

But you say stop
writing those diaries, open
the window. How often I’ve
heard this game described.

Describe whatever game you want.
The language’s mine. I keep
secrets because I’m old
with none to lose.

Who, finally, are you?

So many years asking
for my diaries and now
when you could read them
you’re gone. How do you feel
when a guy like me
tells you not to live
like that because you won’t
want to wake up, and one day



I wait in shadows.
Black Roman walls.
Legions slashed and speared
on either side, graffiti
of blood. Poor punks today
shriek Hello, money! I lick
white curling ice cream,
past at my back, overlooking,


J. Tarwood has been a dishwasher, a community organizer, a medical archivist, a documentary film producer, an oral historian, and a teacher. Much of his life has been spent in East Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. Currently living in China, he has published four books, The Cats in Zanzibar, Grand DetourAnd For The Mouth A Flower, and What The Waking See, and his poems have appeared in magazines ranging from American Poetry Review to Visions. He has always been an unlikely man in unlikely places.

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