Exponents / Opponents by Elijah Burrell

Feb 13, 2024 | Bubbler

Eli Burrell is one of my favorite magazine contributors (Issue 2). We have almost nothing in common. He plays guitar, I smash them. He trims his face hair so neatly. I tend to look like a geranium after shaving. He believes in God. I believe in Chef Boyardee. He is too nice to be brave. I hide behind my sloppiness. Then he wrote Skies of Blur and in these poems he puts his whole arm into the shark’s mouth. We met up last week in a Kansas City alley and after some kissy-punches, he said, “This poem is near the end of the penultimate section of the book. The speaker has tracked a version of himself to a riverbank and observes him disposing of the bodies of yet other versions of himself. The POV can be a little tricky, but this is one of my favorite poems in the book. By the end, the speaker must decide whether to destroy this version or not. Finding the most deserving version/personality/psyche is the point.”

I drag my lifeless body toward the river.
Never have I looked more pitiful
under moonlight—busted, alone, grotesque.
I float downriver like a deadhead log
as I chuck my guitar into the water behind me.
I survey the line of my bodies as they bob
and spin on the surface like potatoes in a tub.
I mutter to myself, unaware
I’m crouched behind a boxelder, watching
from fifteen feet up the bank. I thumb the button
on the knife that’s appeared in my hand—the white-cold
decision of flight or fight. Each of me looks
the same, plus or minus time served in our bodies.
The only answer is the only answer.
This has been the rainbow’s end when there is no rainbow.
I cross this strange valley of unending Cain,
grip the weapon to end me. I look at myself,
the knife, baffled, say: Please. At last, it’s just me.
I drop the blade onto the riverbank.
The armada of me floats away in a blur.

Elijah Burrell is the author of Skies of Blur (Eastover Press, 2024),  TROUBLER (Aldrich Press, 2018) and The Skin of the River (Aldrich Press, 2014). His writing has appeared in numerous publications such as AGNI, The Hopkins Review, North American Review, The Rumpus, Southwest Review, and many others. Burrell received the 2010 Jane Kenyon Scholarship at Bennington College, where he earned his MFA in Writing and Literature at Bennington’s Writing Seminars. In 2012 he joined the faculty of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. A professor in Lincoln’s Department of Humanities and Communications, he teaches creative writing.