Justin Karcher

We're Living in Closets Full of Snow & This Is How You Shed Your Baggage, This Is How You Kill Your Ghosts

Justin Karcher

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We're Living in Closets Full of Snow

“It’s like drilling for oil,” Sam tells me

He’s shoveling snow

And still wearing those therapy pajamas

With the bottom part of the pants cut

It’s bitter cold out here 

Like something out of Game of Thrones

But Sam likes getting frostbite

Says it makes him feel alive

That the freezing of body tissues

Reminds him that he still has a body

And that’s all you can really ask for these days

The backyard is full of glow-in-the-dark junk

A lawn sprinkler douses us in bare-knuckled bourbon

And bruises my spirit but not Sam’s

He has shoveled three times so far tonight

Convinced that there are Vitamin D supplements

Buried under the snow           he tells me that happiness

Flashes suddenly and is gone like how when you fall asleep

In the Rust Belt and there’s no snow but then you wake up

And see that some blizzard painted the ground with its tears

While you were dreaming and Sam dreams a lot

Like he’s Edgar Cayce or something, a lot of times he dreams

Of this small town graveyard full of television sets

And they’re all tuned in to a live coverage

Of dead men’s stag parties    he tells me that testosterone

Is leaving this land but that might be a good thing

He yells at me for falling in love with the same kind of girl

The kind that feels the urge to jump off a bridge all the time

The kind that will probably get postpartum depression

I tell him he’s being sexist and Sam tells me I’m probably right 

Sometimes Sam shovels even when there isn’t any snow

One day I’ll cut bathtubs out of his eyes and soak in his speakeasies

Of sadness     and together we’ll hold hands and jump off a bridge

We might be fuck-ups but at least we’re not douchebags

And that’s pretty important, to still give a shit

To still think there’s happiness out there somewhere 


'We're Living in Closets Full of Snow' first appeared in Zombie Logic Review.


This Is How You Shed Your Baggage, This Is How You Kill Your Ghosts

It’s 12:59 a.m. and I find myself in the middle

Of a ghostly AA meeting, surrounded by writers

Who drank themselves to death, just like I’m trying to do.


Tennessee Williams is here and petting my cat

And talking about the thermostat. You bottled yourself up

So much, I tell him, that your corpse might as well have been

A ship in a bottle, but life isn’t about transforming yourself

Into a ship made of rage that sails across an ocean

Of glass. You’ll just end up cutting your suppressed body open

For all the world to see and even you’ll be shocked

At what’s left behind, when feisty barnacles

Turn your bones into spacious lofts.


Dylan Thomas is here and playing with a flashlight

And missing the greenness of his childhood. You let NYC

Eat you alive, I tell him, like a hipster hopped up on

Fair trade passion. The problem will always be

Our broken idea of fairness. Your problem was death,

How drinking turned your eyes into Ouija boards

And you convinced yourself that whiskey

Was the bridge that connected you to the other side

Where fairies in black negligees seduced you with magic

Until you forgot all about the unimaginative music

Of day-to-day living. I don’t blame you.


Then there’s Dorothy Parker pointing out the wisecracks

In my walls and telling me my foundation is falling apart,

But I should still have fun. You’re the only lover

I’ve ever wanted, I tell her, somebody strong enough

To pull sleds of sarcasm through blizzards of indifference,

But sometimes the weight of boredom was too much,

Even for you, and fate pushed you in a diamond-studded wheelchair

From bastard to bastard, until you overdosed on Algonquin dust,

When time lobotomized you because you were so out of it.

I think I’m in love with you, I tell her, and she just laughs

And tells me I’m not ruthless enough. I assure her

That I will be one day, that her heart better have eyes

In the back of its head, because I’m coming for her.


Kerouac is in the corner crying about America,

How these days you can’t just pick up and go

And wondering how the hell you find yourself

When every space is occupied by someone else.

You tell him that nowadays the only way a heart

Bleeds with passion is if it becomes a hemorrhage,

Because it takes all of your stopwatch strength

To find the thing that makes you tick

And sometimes you have to sit still and wait

For the angels of mangled mercy to show you

How beautiful the world really is, for them to lift you up

By your eyebrows forcing you to see life differently,

Because there are only so many times you can zigzag

Across the country leaving behind trails of watered-down blood.

What you care about most should never be diluted, I tell him,

But the modern world moves too fast and I pity the still-life painters

Who can’t keep up. Your problem, I tell him, was you kept up

And the fastness tore you apart.


Faulkner is just trying to get away from it all.

You tell him that black lives matter

And his eyes try to apologize. The Civil War,

I tell him, is still going on. It’s nothing to romanticize.

The country has spent centuries trying to exorcise

Those Confederate cavalry ghosts still stampeding

Through backwater towns, still burning crosses

On prom night, when Southern Belles deflower themselves

In gardens of empty Eden, when hellfire snakes slither onto their feet

To turn on the TV between their legs and show them the news,

That the world is still a very cruel place,

That teenagers are being shot dead in urban sprawls

While the memory of your forefathers is knitting you a dress

To wear on your wedding day. It doesn’t matter how much scotch

You can drink or how you can manipulate language

To demonster the past, because at the end of the day,

When the moonlight writes police blotters, it’s very clear

That the past is still a monster, that it still has its teeth,

That it’s still ready to bite down on progress

And swallow it whole. You tried, I tell him,

And maybe that’s the best any of us can hope for.


Faulkner’s tears are interrupted by Fitzgerald

Confessing his love for Zelda

And wondering where she is.

I tell him she’s probably in the arms

Of another man, maybe another artist,

But someone not nearly as talented,

That he can still keep a shred of his pride

And he starts banging his head

On my Urban Outfitters record player

Trying to make sense of a woman’s jazz.

I tell him that sometimes all you can do

Is just listen and enjoy. Don’t get too invested,

Because when you flap in the wind and try to fly,

Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a middle of a hurricane,

That maybe it’s best to seek shelter somewhere safe

And wait for it to all blow over, that there will always be someone else

Who’ll whisper the words that seem right, especially on beds

Of undiagnosed psychosis, but words that seem right

Aren’t necessarily the gospel truth. You’re a fool, I tell him,

For falling for it over and over again, but I understand

The appeal all too well.


Suddenly Hemingway bursts into my living room

Yelling about us being cowards and weaklings

Who give up the fight when war is just about to be declared,

That we need to write the truest sentence that we know,

That we shouldn’t let falseness miscarry it into oblivion,

Then he grabs a double-barreled shotgun

And starts complaining about elephant migraines.

He tries to poach himself, but it doesn’t work.

Not this time, at least. He looks me straight

In the eye and asks me what the fuck I’m doing

With my life. You should talk, I tell him, because of you,

All of American literature has been mansplained to death.

Now no one can write. All these dead writers


Have a point, have forced me to rethink how I’ve been living my life.

I feel myself being swept up in their anxiety of influence

And I can’t have that, not anymore. I want to grab my iPhone

And text any of exes, let them know that I’m finally losing my mind,

That whatever they did to me is finally getting the best of me,

That I’m ready for any of them to colonize my independence,

That I’m ready to be a ship in a bottle, because I’m finding it tough

To find an ocean of greenness where I can plant my roots and grow,

Where my wisecracking flowers can rise from the serious dirt

And pierce the sky with sweet-smelling hemorrhages – oh, I’m so tired

Of mansplaining to the mirror, of telling my reflection that my misplaced anger

Is honest and true – oh, I’m so tired of ignoring the lovesome jazz I hear

When I’m lonely at night, when I’m rolling around in beds of poachers

Who hang my orgasms on their walls like elephant skulls when I’m dead

And gone. Enough is enough! I bash my iPhone on the coffee table

Until there are a billion little Graham Bells chiming in my ears. From now on,

There will only be missed connections. From now on, I’m on my own.

I run around my apartment, gather every book I can find,

And throw them in a garbage bag. I go outside and dump the bag

Into a garbage can. I get some gasoline and pour it into the can.

I light a cigarette and throw in the match. An entire literary history

Goes up in flames and I couldn’t be any happier. I look up at the moon

And finally understand its craters, what they mean, and maybe, just maybe,

It’s up to you to fill the emptiness all around you, with your own words,

With your own thoughts, with your own demons. You must shed your baggage,

No matter how beautiful it might be, no matter how thought-provoking.


Justin Karcher


Justin Karcher is the author of Tailgating at the Gates of Hell from Ghost City Press, http://ghostcitypress.tumblr.com/gcp003. Recent works have been published in 3:AM Magazine, Plenitude Magazine, Foundlings, The Black Napkin, 63Channels and more. He is the editor-in-chief of Ghost City Review. He is the winner of the 2015 Just Buffalo Literary Center members' writing competition. He tweets @Justin_Karcher.