Rumpus Original Poetry: Four Poems by Justin Rovillos Monson





When I Ask My Ex How It Was When I Left, She Tells Me “Like You Died but Were Still Alive”

The only time I’ve felt the soft kiss
of any form of death was in a car
accident which               ordinary                         so damn

ordinary                         enough so to almost be
overlooked amongst all the possible
deaths within the daily rise-&-grind

we like to call today                     & then today
I remembered the collision                      Damn
it feels so erotic now                    the split

seconds of the sharp left in which I let go
of any question of whether he would shoot
the gap through oncoming traffic & instead

of watching the pick-up truck crumple
his car                I turned away                 I turned my gaze
forward              I accepted the clap of metal

on metal only feet in front of me
I shattered         the passenger window
with my face & as expected                    then came

the darkness we talk about but can’t really
grasp        like fish speaking of space        two layers
of clouded air & blue light to separate

the cracks & crevasses of the strangely known
I heard him call me from very far away
I heard him scream my name                   my body

beginning to learn itself once again         blood
flooding each muscle & then the sum
of the space I held as a teenager

locking up          my body a jaw clenched
yet trying not to shatter              & my name
again & again    the whine of my name

pouring into some part of me                   opening
my eyes I saw my lap full of blood
seatbelt taut against my leant torso

All I could say                all I could say was Fuck
the red dripping down my face                                       I heard him
breathe out & say I thought you were dead          I

thought I killed you & the weighted world crept
back into the periphery               totaled
two-door on Dixie Highway       sirens cutting

through the air                             the ordinary form
of woken living settling back
into the normalcy of afternoon

light      after none of the empty boundaries
between my self & being every–
thing lived as boundaries            but as doors

I could open & shut in a furnished
House                 home in which I sit on the floor          still
hearing my name called              over      & over


Aesthetic Fragments in a Box

A single divine Good morning nested against the railing, view
partial of my current politics. Scrap paper housing newness

A couple old quotes, the cartography of our wheel spinning gold
strands amongst all the slowly graying hairs. Coffee, black: what carried

me into you. Precisely six screens in a single cell, each tucked
in a see-through church (And all of ’em on — Perhaps a nice meta-

phor for capitalism.) New neighbor with six icepick scars. Light
yard movement (cold winds from the North). On the hand-ball court, five

men from three sets. Laughter with undercurrent: a choice (polite):
more scars or packed bag, quick trip to Seg. & still the morning shout-out — Guess

whose birthday it is! Flushed cheeks at breakfast & after, still. Letter
with your body with my body blooming inside. Wet everywhere

irreducible life. Hardness held close as room full of students
fills up paperwork (I hear you talk about her, school, everything

… it’s like, what are you doing here? You don’t belong). Brimmed bowl of food
from Cash Flow Donny (now immortal in verse): red, green, brown, white, orange

yellow plethora. Dusk rubbing herself all on me, my weakness
made timely. Dreaming up a room where we can unfold unsurveilled.

Constellation of torso as ink on paper — seismic, thermal
& still symbolic. String of moments in which there is nothing left

to say but Goodnight, yet, here, there is only silence & breathing.
Hard body in rest: slipping away, then, slowly, closer, warmer.


At Thirteen

I wanted a beard, wool cardigan
for my weak chin, jaw cloaked in black
lip hatted with its winter cap. I love
to speak of her, yes her, with lust
& coldness, even now, as my crown
jewel snatches herself back, two hairs
turning toward the oceans of age, the gray
pattern of my life unfolding again:
gain the walled city, dilute the empire.
I ran from my blood–
line, I see
that now. White dudes called me “Wigger”
my pants sagged, my hat on tilt. Black dudes
scoped my eyes & called out “Chinaman!”
So, I flipped pounds & lifted steel
& talked slick, stacked my stories
on top of one another like cards
on a table full of backpacks & hands.
I struggle to meet frailness
with grace. I still run.


Broken American Crown

I. September 1997: My Mother’s Father Recounts a History Living Within Him Yet Not His Own


To waken the Earth, he would flood the air


Lolo once told me of a young peasant
            from his native Pangasinang
who’d run through the wet fields at dawn, feet bare
from night, who’d shout & sing songs of days
filled with love & grain & thieves. Until one
morning silence loomed heavy as a gun
& soldiers lit the bright green fields ablaze
to smoke out the boy with songs of legends
& the skin to become a peasant-king.

[Silence to count American blessings.]

Lolo said, The boy runs, somewhere, still. [Then
laughter as gunshot or maybe as pill.]


II. October 2001: My Father Falters at the Edge of His Interrupted Life

     The laughter as gunshot, needing a pill,
     he listens to the young lovers flirt, touch
     each other’s wrists in the booth behind him,
     haze of a cigarette hung like so much
     loose silk from his soon-ex-wife’s shoulder. Thrill
     is gone, soon October, too. Where to go?


III. November 2004: I Watch My Father Attempt to Burn Leaves


                                                                  Each strand of leaf
ashed itself amongst the trees. We had tried
to contain it — Derek at flank, the brief
barks of my father to tighten our hold.

(But I had to stay close: evening so cold.)

Father looked at me, the fire he started
torching through the veins of the rented land.
I sprinted down the long driveway, the sound
of sirens cracking the wind, phone in hand.
                          Psalm: O flame, help me lay my body bare
                                        to waken the Earth, to flood the air.


Portrait of Justin Rovillos Monson by Lisa Lee Herrick.

Justin Rovillos Monson, a first generation Filipino-American poet and writer, was a 2018 PEN America Writing for Justice Fellow, and was the winner of the inaugural 2017 Kundiman/Asian American Literary Review/Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Mentorship in poetry. His work has been published, or is forthcoming, in The Asian American Literary Review, Pacifica Literary Review, The Offing, Hayden's Ferry Review, and elsewhere. He is working on his first collection of poems, and is currently serving a sentence in the Michigan Department of Corrections, from which he hopes to be released in 2027. More from this author →