Even the Best Records Have Gaps Between Tracks (and other poems)


I tap my swizzle stick against the cocktail 
napkin and watch the bartender quarter limes,

lemons, and oranges. I watch him work the knife. 
The full garnish bowl, a wedge salad of color and scent.

A blue streak in his hair catches the light,
the color of a Bombay Sapphire bottle,

and I catch myself wishing you were here, tonight,
telling me about the first time you heard Bix 

on vinyl, that cornet, and how he died 
of drink. All that’s left in my glass is ice 

melting. I think I might call you here from the bar,
but you’re many-months sober and trying to make it work.

Some pauses and silences last longer than others—
I think this as I move out into the night.


“I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can” —from Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed”

The riverside motel insists I pay 
by card, but they let me use an assumed name:
Aleck Ford Miller—the birth name of Sonny Boy
Williamson (who once played his harmonica 
so sharply on a juke-joint stage he spat blood
into a coffee can all night). Last month 
I did business as Gunnar Ekelof at a Red Roof.

The river beneath my window slides to somewhere.

I’m writing a song, and this is what I’ve got:
I’d rather be pushed down to the bottom
than to be that kind of man.
I’d rather be dragged down to the bottom
than to be that kind of man.
The water drowns me in a language
you could never understand.

Tectonic plates slo-mo against each other,
right now, edging in the Mariana Trench. 
I choose plastic at the market.
The kid at the register asks if I heard they found
a grocery bag on the sea’s deepest floor.
I picture it fall and fall forever through the water.

You make me miss moments I’ve never lived.

A man opens his trunk and drops two bags 
of trash from the edge of the bridge. We watch
them fall until they dematerialize.
He doesn’t care that I’ve seen him, gives 
me a little wave hello. The woman 
he’s with giggles, rounds the back of the car—
their red kiss drowned by haze of exhaust and taillights.

All this, and I can’t help but think of you.

A lone light, lit at my motel, and it’s mine.
If I squint just so, I see myself staring down
from the room’s window above, at me, and the water
moves beneath the bridge holding me up. 
And then I turn out the light, slide the blackout
drapes together, and I’m on the bridge
hoping to see me turn the light back on.  

This man is off living my life without me.
Back in the room, he’s gone, but my bags remain.

I pack my case, and add some to the song:
I know you think I’m full of nowhere,
my net’s been brimming for years.
You said you know I’m full of nothing,
my net’s been breaking for years.
Spent forty of them looking for the upper
room, and never found the stairs.

The river, churning scraps of Minnesota 
moonlight, waits.

I’m trying my best to say it plain:
I’ll be there just as soon as I can.


“America is waiting for a message of some sort or another.” —Brian Eno & David Byrne

The bus’s accordion door opens wide
and we stumble out into the actual world.
You wait as I take a shot of the gutted church—

burnt out, busted windows, half-open door— 
and a handful of gravestones fading off beside it. 
My caption: What people mean by down and out.
The first reply: This is a like a poem.
We make our way down the sidewalk to the café,
my hand in the hollow of your hand, A little buzz 

with each incoming response—red digital hearts,
blue thumbs up, crying yellow faces. 
At the corner table, I set the phone between us. 

Later, behind the menu, I search for “crudo”
so I’ll appear to know it means “raw.” I check 
the new mountain of likes and replies and smile

at them, and you. It’s good for a person to feel loved.
We walk back toward the stop, and pause by an empty lot
lit by the random, frenzied flashes of lightning 

bugs. There must be ten thousand, you say, eyes wide.
Some slow song drifts through the air from a nearby shop’s 
outdoor speakers. The lot becomes a post-dusk, 

bioluminescent floor demanding
dance with its flash patterns and warnings. We embrace 
and spin. You stop me, raise your phone, and aim.


  • Eli Burrell was raised in Missouri and has stayed there most of his life. His first book of poems, The Skin of The River, and his second, Troubler, were published by Aldrich Press in 2014 and 2018. His writing has appeared in AGNI, North American Review, Southwest Review, The Rumpus, Sugar House Review, and Measure. In 2012 he joined the faculty of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri.

  • A selection of woodcuts from an 1882 book compiling facsimiles of 18th-century chapbooks. To see the pictures in context and peruse the full chapbooks see The Public Domain Review.