3 Poems

by Jessie Lynn McMains

3 Poems

by Jessie Lynn McMains


a swan and a pistol


in the mirror the spitting image of every bad girl reflects back at her. she applies eyeliner with the edge of a knife so its sharp enough to slice to the quick. slicks too much lipstick (coffee brown, violet purple, wound red) on her lips. some gets on her teeth; she rubs them with the edge of a nicotine finger and spits a drop of poison into the sink. thats her picture, there, in my wallet. the rakish tilt of her fedora is anything but nice, guys. she catches the lost boys with her fishnets.​​ kisses​​ em and tattoos tears in their eyes.​​ tosses​​ em back then tosses back a shot (or five) of whiskey. shes a haunted barroom, a heel broken in the sidewalks cracks. shes the jasmine funk of new orleans, and the wonder wheel rising above the sea. how i miss my baby so, but im so far away from the city and shes out there, breaking the drugstore heart of another tin can sailor. shes​​ in a cabaret, torching songs with a voice that sounds like a pack of lucky strikes soaked in a vat of vanilla bourbon, sprinkled with shattered glass. such a crumbling cookie, such a splotch of greasepaint. a fingerprint smeared on the gloss of a black and white photobooth strip. shes a strip club angel with a heart of rust and im the sucker who fell and fell and fell in love. she loved me back for a month of midnights. i gave her my postage stamps, bought her red shoes, played her sad tunes on drunken pianos. she wore a dress and a tie and a cheetah coat, and i steam-engined my best rumpled suit. she took me out to chinatown. silhouetted herself beneath the neon signs. when the streetlights looked like the stars in my eyes, that mooned shed nearly disappeared. she gave me a black scarf to remember her by. it turned into a raven, took squawking to the sky. she stood by the window of the last train out of burma shave and as it whistled​​ away i watched her, i watched her as she waved  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ goodbye.


Union Pacific Labyrinth Line


An unambiguous route to the center and back so

its not the same as being map-lost. I can pinpoint

my place, tie a red string from one pushpin to

the other but then its back to the start again. Not

a maze​​ but a broken record. Evokes metaphor, sacred

geometry, spiritual pilgrimage. I could take a ride

and just sit watching the cabs depart and arrive.

Waiting in line for the night in those October corridors

of wind and ghosts. Sacred geometry of railroad

station bars and tattooed strangers crying into their

Old Style about the one that got away. A torturous

anatomical structure, vena cava as labyrinthine whorls,

more like the inner ear as it listens to its own bloods

mourning-folklore. As a tiny devil, a​​ minotaur in

miniature, some horned fucker whos not map-lost

but cant get out, lows that he will devour you sos

hes not alone. In the labyrinth of labyrinths, I thought

of faces reflected in vacant storefronts and fingering

words into the dirt. Diablo.​​ I thought of the rail

road apartment full of candles, brief flash of starlight

as I howled by, going home. Or home. Many come

in times of grief and sorrow. Many share a bottle

of Night Train with their devils. Contemplate

throwing themselves like pennies onto the tracks.

I should have drunk a Thunderbird instead. Behind

that simple name lies a convoluted history. A history

of nights spent sitting in my best friends kitchen,

listening to the trains pull out of the station. Wishing

I were on one, going home.​​ A history in reverse. Of

wanting to leave the city and go home to stand

like a candle beneath my best friends window. A

vigil of one. A never-home howl, flicker, melt. A

woman was struck by an Electric District train at

the station in south suburban Hazel Crest. The

legend says the thread was golden. Why do I

remember it red? The Operation Lifesaver program

is used to help spread safety messages: Do not

third-rail yourself. Do not arc your body into

electric light. Do not visit the District of Howling

Ghosts, the District of Stars and Candles, the

District of October Taxicabs. When you meet

a devil at the crossroads, hand over your bottle

of bum wine and your broken record and be

on your way. Take photos of evening platforms

and post them on social media. Photos of vacant

lots and cracked backyards in the flickering star

light. Photos of bodies riddled with gold gunshots,

bleeding red graffiti scrawls. Very Top Secret. Kids

like us will be alone forever. Solo vigils. Old Style

ghosts. Police recovered a​​ backpack on the train

platform which contained a suicide note. The

thread is red because the minotaur yanked an

artery right outta my body. Gold blood rusted

railroad red. My minotaur, myself. It is the thread

that binds me here. The devils no different.​​ All

those blues singers met themselves at the

crossroads, swallowed their own souls in

exchange for a night train and a little gold, a

little starlight game. All horned beasts just us.

Forever alone, pacing loops, our hooves

wearing deep tracks into record​​ grooves. Not

map-lost but stuck here just the same.

in the city / baby sometimes


there were other summers but they were just the hot

hot heat, not the intoxicated adventures just the gun

shots & the cars​​ backfire


the kind of heat gets you so sad you​​ can feel it

in your teeth, your teeth fell out & sunk all skipped-

stone to the bottom of your knotted


guts, my throat gave up its ghost & went all shred,

all knees-in-the-gravel, yeah it was all spooky action

at a distance of 680 odd miles on I-80


we were bad teeth & tummyaches,​​ swollen tonsils

& crotch rot, our huge​​ fucking hearts were nauseous

nauseous nauseous whether together


or apart but near-sick was better than so far away

when you were so far from the city my heart got

such a big lonesome in it​​ I tried


to shove things in it to fill it up like reverse​​ dumpster

diving, I tried to fill it with protest​​ & polka dots,

freckles & root beer floats,​​ salted


slices of watermelon, Twizzlers melting on the side-

walks of Wicker Park, I tried sundresses that showed

my cleavage,​​ tried​​ licking the salt


from other lovers’​​ skin, I stayed up drinking in 4 am bars

telling strangers of my sorrows, yeah I even went to shows

sometimes but without you the music bored


me to death & I ran from city to city,​​ without you my city

just wasnt right, like I needed 2 am donuts & a sandy beach

but all I got was this lousy day-drunk


sometimes I got day-drunk & woozy from beer & heat

I hallucinated your yellow hair & swagger but it wasnt​​ ever

youits summer​​ in the​​ city &


youre so​​ long gone from the city & I with my squished

tomato​​ of a sick-as-fuck heart, I start to miss you

baby, sometimes.


About the Author

Jessie Lynn McMains (they/them) is a multi-genre writer. Their writing has appeared in many publications, including Tiny Essays, Pussy Magic, Moonchild Magazine, Vamp Cat Magazine, Kissing Dynamite, and Corvid Queen. They are the author of several chapbooks, most recently The Girl With the Most Cake and forget the fuck away from me. They were the recipient of the 2019 Hal Prize for poetry, and were the 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Racine, WI. They are editor/publisher of Bone & Ink Press. You can find their website at recklesschants.net, or find them on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie

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#thesideshow| December 2019| Micro-poetry