epicurean ethics

i. don’t fear god

atop the waterfall, champasak province,

wild coffee growing bloodclot-red,

banana shade at each side of the river,

ai Lon and Athith wet-to-their-knees,

heavy-wide sun cooking us brown

as the rainsoaked earth, i considered

how quick the jump would kill me.

the mist at the bottom obscured rocks

brutal and civil as rows of daggers. 

ii. what is good is easy to get

the mango, a lump of dripped dawn.

the mosquito net, a holey shield against night.

the sticky rice, pearls of sugar pulled from mud.

the men asleep beside me, beautiful snoresong. 

the wet heat, it is breath. it is all things.

the palms, arms overwhelmed with coconuts.

iii. don’t worry about death

ai Lon died two years ago, four years after the month we lived together, rose early, drank coffee, drained beerlao in the hotel’s shiny lobby, hauled plastic bags of mangosteen and longan to temples. we hadn’t talked in a while, and then he was gone. i don’t know how to be funny when my friends die. not yet, at least. i remember my uncle joked about the corpse of my grandmother as we carried her casket to the altar. i laughed, because what else?

iv. what is terrible is easy to endure

when i left laos, i cried every day.

i cried over the same two poems.

i looked at pictures and cried.

i stood in walmart and cried.

i rented an apartment, got a nice job,

reunited with a woman i loved, and cried.

autumn descended, a season missed

like a lost appendage, and i cried.

winter was a brick through the window:

cried. cried in phoenix, new york,

new haven, minneapolis, cried on pizza

and into beer, good beer, beer i’d craved!

one june day, i drove up to maine

in my cousin’s car. ate lobster rolls,

bowled, laughed. peeped lighthouses

hammered into the jagged stone coast.

took a candid photo on the beach, sand whipped

my winterwhite face pink. gulls squealed

sharp into a preposterous distance.

BRENDAN WALSH has lived and taught in South Korea, Laos, and South Florida. His work has appeared in RattleGlass PoetryAmerican Literary ReviewMaine ReviewThe American Journal of Poetry, and other journals. He is the author of 6 collections, including Buddha vs. Bonobo (Sutra Press) and fort lauderdale (Grey Book Press). His latest collection, concussion fragment, winner of the 2020 elsewhere chapbook contest, was released in February 2022. He is co-host of the Fat Guy, Jacked Guy podcast with Stef Rubino.