Sunday 31 December 2023

Five Poems by John Tustin




He sat there in his powder-blue armchair and he waited for the phone to ring

And then it did.

It was her. She called like she said she would. 11 P.M.

He hadn’t heard her voice in months

And when she spoke to him now, she sounded different.

All the syrup was gone. The affection also gone. Like she turned it off.


He talked in the calm measured tones he had practiced

And realized he sounded like a crazy man who was trying not to sound crazy

But he couldn’t help it.

He was laser focused on getting the truth.

In those months he went from loving her to hating her

To just wanting to know everything that was hidden from him.


She was defensive and she was evasive.

She was clearly telling him only what she thought he already found out

When he did all that post-breakup internet detective work.

He began to feel sorry for her

While still hating her and wishing her unhappiness henceforth.

Then her voice became how he remembered it and she started to be honest.


The truth, as she told it, was jarring

Even though it was about what he expected.

The syrup and affection were poured back into her voice as if she had turned a knob

And as she spoke of infidelity and apology he felt a stirring,

Realizing he still loved her.

He thought to himself about how he surely always would and how stupid that was.


When they finished their conversation and wished each other well

He put the phone down and went to check on his kids who were sleeping in their bedroom.

She had gotten along so well with his kids

And they were genuinely happy their daddy found someone to love.

He got a bottle of soda from the refrigerator, went back to his powder-blue armchair

And tried to think about anything other than her but he couldn’t do it.




I like when the villain becomes a hero

but when that happens

it means a new villain must emerge,

otherwise the hero can’t exist.


Not many enjoy the role of villain –

at least not those who are aware

that is their role.

As I said,

villains must exist

if we want our heroes.


I think often of Judas Iscariot

and his role in the collective conscious

through the centuries,

that his motives were nothing but greed.

I’ve struggled with the fact he betrayed Jesus

for a small sum of money

then decided to kill himself in shame and grief –

all this after abandoning his previous life

to follow the man.

It doesn’t make sense.


Is it possible Judas did what he did

in order to fulfil the prophecy?

Could his grief have been not about his conscience

but in carrying out the act

he knew someone had to carry out?

A hero needs a villain,

sometimes many of them.

He stepped up?

Could that be it?


I’ve turned Judas from a villain to a hero in my mind

but, as I’ve told you,

I love when that happens,


you must make your own conclusion.




He’s your lover now

But he doesn’t love you.

I was your lover

And I loved you then

But I’m not your lover now

And I don’t love you now,

I can’t love you now.


I don’t know what will happen

When you realize he doesn’t love you

And that I really did love you then

But now to love you would be impossible

For me to do.


I believe when this realization hits you

Things will move along

Just as they did

Before you knew

Your lover doesn’t love you

And the lover who loved you

Doesn’t love you anymore

And can’t ever love you again.


You’ll slide into his bed

Itchy and unsatisfied

And you’ll think about it for a while

And then things will remain as they are.



That sad and broken-hearted girl stood in the corner

With her back to the wall

Looking down at her shoes

And at her heart that had fallen to pieces

And was scattered like confetti all around her.


That silly good-hearted boy actually faced the wall,

Afraid to even look around, his heart blackened

By the unmerciful years and by those he had

Encountered in those years. He felt something

In the cold of that room

And he turned around and looked beyond

The faces of those that had castigated him

And those that did not know him


And the broken-hearted girl looked up

And beyond the ones that had used her

And lied to her and disappointed her.


The eyes of that sad and broken-hearted girl

And the eyes of that silly good-hearted boy met

Across the light and the dark and those superfluous faces

In-between and they came toward each other

And their hands met and they spoke

And they left the dance floor together,

Her wishing with her eyes shut tight

And him singing some song from before they were born.


They were both happy and more than satisfied with this

New arrangement and as the good-hearted boy fumbled

In his pocket for his car keys and the broken-hearted girl

Waited on the other side of the car

They both wondered why it had taken so long

To stop feeling so sad and stop feeling

So silly, respectively.


Then they got in the car

And were gone.



Lying in bed listening to The Ronettes and The Shirelles,

Waiting for Li Ch’ing-Chao with my eyes closed.

Naked and dreaming about her in a paper boat

Solemnly cutting through the water of a stilled river

And moving toward me

Who waits for her on the riverbank.


She will lead me by the hand to her small courtyard

Where we will watch the moon and the shadows cast

By the moon upon the leaves that dance on her lonely plum tree.

Her husband has died and you are gone from me

And we think about that before we go to her bedchamber

Where we kiss and write a dozen poems together

Until we fall asleep with her windows all open before us, our bodies pleasant,

A slight breeze blowing out the candles of last night, giving the sun a chance

To sneak his light inside.


The rain waits to visit on another day,

A day not so bright

When her hairpins are not in my pocket

And her hair not spilled in a wild arrangement

All around my unburdened shoulder and beating chest

In her room where the candles are out

And we doze.

John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals since 2009. His first poetry collection from Cajun Mutt Press is now available at contains links to his published poetry online.




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