Two Rooms

Jigsaw men smoke behind cinder block walls,
assemble the pieces of people they’ve been.
Second-hand voices seep under the door
of the coffee-cup room severing “Al” from “Anon”
—Pain extended from pain embraced.

On this side, new converts speak hushed or hurried,
wet-eyed, or wrung dry. Blank lives assume form
with each word offered here, like “he did” and “he said”
or “I told him to go …”

… While the “he” men all speak of the people they’ve been.

The newly birthed “nons” of us pay off our debt,
count each hour we focus on “me,” “I,” not “he.”
Each survivor exposes a skin pink with scars.
Filtered he-air intrudes as we salve open wounds.

“He said,” Kleenex weeps …
“He did,” Lost begins …

… While the men in the next room chant Me, Me, Me, Me!

We women work puzzles, avoid those with eyes
while the jigsaw men talk of the people they’ve been.

First published at Zocalo Public Square, 2012


Empire Falls

She’s a loaded gun fingers flexing on the trigger she’s the 3 am gritty-eyed one last line

before oblivion turning and turning in the darkness knotting of sweat-sogged sheets she’s

a winding shroud of whiskey that coats the breath she’s the paisley smoke that halos

auburn hair she’s teeth that grind an empty room a burning fuse and sweeping slants

of black tracks down pale skin she’s a desiccated womb a silhouette a sway before a broken

mirror she’s bloodmist and milky bone she’s a fire sparked its flickering blue notes singing

deep beneath the temples she’s a trajectory complete she’s the vulture winging overhead

the string of broken pediments. Her aftermath, a ringing, meets the day

Copyright JP Reese, 2012: First published in Blue Fifth Review: Blue Five Notebook:


She fabricates life in a lamp-lit room,
cloaks herself in poetry, in the singing
of this poem. Ophelia considers company
but decides to go it alone.

It begins: The tube snakes slowly inside.
She watches a plane knife through clouds
beyond the clinic’s window. A plastic jar fills
with one perfect white sucking sound.

Another infant girl or boy unknown.
The nurse hovers, lowers her gown, says,
“All that could have been is undone.”
It is a good saying, she thinks, it is true.

In the evening as the sun fades to brown,
Ophelia invites her friends and her friends’ friends
to wash the color from her hands,
some with whiskey, some with wine.

She lingers beside the river, feet bare on rocks,
anxious to touch the water, to return. God
is not in heaven. He is in motion, a copper creature
bearing down, determined to find the name

without a sound. Ophelia dives, secret gripped
in a palm. Turned loose, it swims and flickers
in the dusky wash of half-light, then is gone.

Copyright JP Reese

Originally appeared in A Baker’s Dozen: Inaugural Issue: Thirteen Extraordinary Things


In the last two years, Louise has discovered many frightening changes in her body. First, the Zoloft her doctor prescribed her could no longer do the job without a helpful Abilify booster.  Next, her eyes turned red and dry, but luckily, she discovered Restasis, and even though her skin has begun to sag around the jaw line, she realizes that along with a daily dose of Oracea for the rosacea that pinks her cheeks, she can slather on Olay Regenerist.  Yes, these last two years have been a learning experience.  Louise never imagined the risks she’d been taking by only seeing her internist once a year for a physical.

Even suffering all of these conditions, Louise considers herself one of the lucky ones, as she’s learned there are pills, drops, and creams for all of her problems.  Her doctor is happy to prescribe the new medications she hears about during breaks in the nightly news shows she watches religiously. Tests he scheduled even managed to find a few more problems Louise had not yet considered, so now she’s taking care of her cholesterol and high blood pressure with Caduet and her high triglycerides are under control with Lovaza. Because some of these meds give her a severe case of dry mouth, her doctor suggested OraMoist patches: problem solved! She has Blue Cross/Blue Shield with a low deductible for both prescription medications and her regular doctor’s visits, so even though she’s practically falling apart, she has no worries.

All the trouble began right after Bud walked out two years ago, the day before her fiftieth birthday. Before that day, Louise had never taken a prescription in her life and had always been healthy as a horse.   Maybe Bud sensed she was on the cusp of a physical apocalypse when she mentioned one morning over coffee she might have that restless leg syndrome they saw on the TV the night before; maybe that’s why he took off with only the clothes on his back and his Joe Montana signed football.   He never called or came by the house for any of his other things.   After fifteen good years!   Imagine. Whatever.

Louise does not mourn Bud’s disappearance; she has her daily schedule of pill taking to keep her busy.   Who knows what might happen if she forgets to take any one of these little miracle workers?  These days, she watches the nightly news mostly for the commercials, trying to keep ahead of whatever new malady might be creeping up on her.   Bombings in Pakistan take a back seat to overactive bladder; global warming is a pale worry compared to potential hypoglycemia.

She’s considering switching to Centrum Silver after she saw their ad during Brian Williams’ broadcast.   The woman in the ad’s hair was so beautiful, and she looked so happy! And thank heaven she switched to Scott Pelley and caught the last of the Boniva ad with that cute Sally Field, or she never would have considered bone loss and called for an appointment this morning.   Tonight, she’ll watch Diane Sawyer on ABC to make sure she is up to date with all the help available out there for people like her.

Louise makes a list of errands to run after the doctor, writing Walmart at the top of the pad and adding Refills underneath, including Nasonex (allergy season again!), Imitrex (for those blinding headaches that come whenever she tries to clean out Bud’s closet), Zicam,  because cold and flu season is right around the corner, and she writes down Boniva? in case she’s right and the doctor gives her a prescription for bone loss too.   Finally, Louise writes down, ask Dr. Walton about Lyrica for the pain, and Lunesta?!!! because she hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in months and that beautiful big green moth is so relaxing as it hovers over that sleeping woman’s face on the commercial.   She checks her supply of Vaniqua, a miracle cream for removing all those pesky menopausal hairs that have begun to spring up in odd places, and she counts her OraMoist dry mouth patches. Plenty left.

Louise wonders if she’ll ever have to buy tampons again, thinks she ought to ask the doctor for some Viagra just in case Bud ever realizes the huge mistake he’s made and decides to come home. She’s smarter now than she was in all those years before he left, knows now she should have agreed with him that trying Viagra might have helped them both, but back then she’d never realized how much help there was for any problem if a person just studied commercials between the news stories.

She smiles to herself as she grabs her purse and keys from the hook by the back door, knowing no matter what happens from now on, there will always be a pill for that.

© JP Reese: First published in The Winter Issue of The Smoking Poet

Cover of my first book of poetry, Final Notes, from Naked Mannekin Press, $10.00 through PayPal (includes postage). All orders: Send your shipping address to and I will send you a signed copy.

Poet Sam Pereira says of Final Notes: Too many times, the idea of a “chapbook” substantiates the claim that poetry has little, if anything, left to say. In JP Reese’s Final Notes, nothing could be farther from the truth. We get snuck up on with lines like “Danger rests in believing the honest blue of the sky.” Remarkably understated, it becomes a sort of poetic fortune cookie, not to be tossed aside, but held on to as our journeys progress.

Another example is the stunning poem “Evanescence,” where we come away feeling the addictive nature of commingling in darkness. There is joy in this knowledge that warmth, however it is made aware to us, is momentary in its dynamic, but worth taking. The poem “2008, What I Wanted” offers wisdom beyond anything that might be stated here about it. This is a manifesto to the world on how not to treat those left breathing.

JP Reese has the skill of an artist and the soul of a survivor. The proof is compiled in a perfectly lean volume that needs to be read with admiration for years to come. Those looking to find that most rarified of beings, a genuine poet, need look no further.

Sam Pereira’s books include The Marriage of the Portuguese (L’Epervier Press, 1978), Brittle Water (Abattoir Editions/Penumbra Press, University of Nebraska at Omaha, 1987), and A Cafe in Boca (Tebot Bach, 2007):

© 2012 by Sam Pereira

Poet Shara McCallum says: These poems are resoundingly of our time. JP Reese’s collection, Final Notes, offers personal lyric-narratives about various subjects: love and desire, a marriage strained by alcohol abuse, a mother’s love for her child, a daughter’s devotion to her aging and declining father. They also speak to public narratives that inscribe our contemporary American lives: 9-11, the war in Iraq, the collapse of the economy and Wall Street’s complicity and corruption. Often, as in “2008, What I Wanted,” the personal and public intersects, naturally and to moving effect. Whatever this poet addresses, her poems reveal the poet-speaker’s desire to speak with complexity and honesty to the totality of what it is to be human. They succeed in doing this largely through the persona she constructs (one that the striking poem addressing Sexton and Plath suggests is the inheritance of Confessionalism). The poems also move us through the sheer force of their images; and Reese’s deft capturing of an unexpected detail frequently reveals the underbelly of what, at first glance, seems ordinary. The title of one of her poems, “It is What It is,” is a catch-phrase in American idiom that highlights one of the primary tensions in this collection. Like that phrase, Final Notes is resigned to looking at ‘what is’—though not to embrace a cynical view of the world but, rather, to find a balance between denial and hopelessness. The “bright razors” with which Reese speaks, then, dissect difficult experience but, also, become a healing.

Shara McCallum’s books of poetry include This Strange Land (Alice James Books, 2011), Song of Thieves (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003) and The Water Between Us (1999), winner of the 1998 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. Her poems have won a college prize from The Academy of American Poets. McCallum’s poems have been anthologized in The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology (ed. Michael Collier, 2000). McCallum teaches and directs the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University.


Author Susan Tepper:  It isn’t often one reads a book of poetry that is both immediate and visionary. Such is the case with “Final Notes,” a searing new collection by JP Reese. These poems float, they gut-punch, they bleed, they cry out for more space in a shrinking world.

Susan Tepper is author of From the Umberplatzen: A Love Story, Deer and Other Stories, and What Might Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock & Dori G.

Poet and Author Marc Vincenz on Final Notes:
The poems in JP Reese’s Final Notes are deeply personal: letters, sketches, faded photographs, white noise emerging from dreams. Late at night, a cold calm permeates the house, a great sigh emanates from the bones. In precisely that moment clarity arrives. But clarity is not always revelation; it may be realization rather than resolution. Perhaps it is that instant you stop searching for meaning that change occurs and renewal begins. In these wrought iron imagistic poems, Reese invites us inside her four fissured walls. Here man and woman lose their desire yet somehow fall together in grace, a father repairs a chair in the company of bees, a parent’s aspirations for her son remain unfulfilled, even the self becomes invisible in its own reflection. Thirst may never be quenched, for as our children dance, gravity waits patiently in “the clay beneath our feet.” And in the night-silence of corridors, still the unspeakable speaks.

Marc Vincenz is the author of Upholding Half the Sky, The Propaganda Factory and the forthcoming Pull of the Gravitons.