Mark J Mitchell, Serial Killer Sestinas


His wet socks fail
to wake up his long feet.
He pulls himself upright.

The knob of hydrant
is the only tool he has
to reach the vertical.

Epaulets are torn
from the fatigue jacket
but the Big Red One remains.

Camouflage pants—frayed—
shield his legs. He knows
he’s invisible from the waist down.

A kicked half-pint shatters
against the Seven-Eleven wall.
Today is all he owns.

As long as gray rain falls
over the red bridge
he will scream at the sky.


It is a remarkable thing how infinitely naked all that end of town
(…) is at this day of people. 
— Samuel Pepys, January 17, 1665/66

A gaslit city. Sepia. Your eyes
make out a steeple’s long shadow. No bell
escapes the fog. Church is always canceled.
No choir chants empty psalms, unpleasant lies.
You shudder and listen for footsteps—light
or hard. No one is following you. Now
and here. An unlit window. A soft sigh
drops onto pavement like an untied bow.
Of course you’re dreaming—evading lost truth
or seeking it. The dream itself knows
where—exactly—you must walk. Turn left here.
Hide in the long shadow. Your damp skin hears
fog falling—almost rain. You must wake now.
Don’t look for anything. Not even youth.


She dreamed in dark sonnets without knowing
she did—crocodiles rhymed with nuns. Odd beats—
unsteady clocks—troubled her slow breathing,
always repeating—not quite—I am. Sleep
was not her friend. She hid from sheets, falling
on ice, pulpits, hills. She’s not fond of verse
(can you blame her—you—she knows you’re reading
this. She’s watching now). Nothing’s very neat
below her eyelids. Blue-white maps lead old
boyfriends back to her floor. Dreams don’t escape
her light life. They flow back to where she sold
her unsteady soul. That dead man—his crisp cape—
his bent smile—master of the universe,
he said. She paces. Growing sad. Growing cold.


Devils only die for fun. — Isaac Rosenberg, The Immortals

Even now he lives in cruel comfort.
From a high-rise window, he watches weather—
angry clouds scudding across the great lake.
That small white plastic bottle of pills
rattles in his twitching left hand.
He never expected to change the world.

He was a ghost king in his shrunken world.
No one had seen him in years. He took comfort
in those deaths. He played out his deft hand
to get rid of one woman. He looks at weather,
hoping for lightning. He’d open the white pill
bottle—just not yet. The water in the lake

is gray as his old suits. When he strutted on Lake
Shore Drive, he’d been fancy—ruling this world
with money. That was before her cherished pills
handed him a plot. People had comforted
him after. He tried not to laugh. Whether
they guessed—he didn’t care. With his right hand

he grips the wrist to calm that other hand—
the restless one that did the deed. The great lake
is calm on its surface—too large for most weather
to scratch it. Like him it creates a world
and rules it from above. There’s no comfort
for the spare people who bought the pills.

He was so careful then—painting two or three pills
with cyanide—never all of them. His left hand
was still steady. He grasped at that comfortable
knowledge now. A freighter’s carving the lake
leaving a scar in water. He faces this world
he made accidentally safe. He didn’t care whether

he’d done that. It had changed like weather—
summer to winter. Still, those random, poisoned pills
are now safely sealed. He laughs. It’s a boring world
now. He’d done every solo thing his hands
would allow. He was even tired of the lake,
spread out like a gray carpet, unsoft, no comfort.

For five days he’s taken one pill. His palsied hands
didn’t work well in this weather to uncap the bottle. They shake
and rattle his small world. One day, one pill—some comfort.

The Tylenol killer was responsible for 7 deaths in 1982. Because of this we have safety sealed bottles. He was never caught.


The pink lady is distressed. Her suitcase—
holy Samsonite—is damaged by time.
One perfect wheel’s gone missing. She can’t find
a replacement. A dead phone pressed to her face,
she cries and begs. Her pink-tipped fingers trace

transparent hearts on steamy windows. Clothes
tumble warm behind her. She wants the rush
of rinse cycles, roar of spins. She touches
a pink button on her coat, twists her bow
like a prayer wheel, kicks a washer. She knows
her silent phone lies. A decade of dust

haunts this laundromat, but she’s its head ghost.
She’s always here, studying clothes—the clean,
the filthy. She stays for warmth, for the lost
underwear. Her injured suitcase still coasts
behind her, blessing each broken machine.

Mark J Mitchell was born in Chicago and grew up in southern California. His latest poetry collection Starting from Tu Fu will be published by Encircle Publications.

He is very fond of baseball, Miles Davis, Kafka, and Dante. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the activist and documentarian, Joan Juster, where he makes his meager living pointing out pretty things.

He has published two novels, three chapbooks, and two poetry collections so far. Read more of him here.

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