New poetry by Brendan Joyce, from Character Limit

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents new poetry by Brendan Joyce, from his chapbook, Character Limit.



To be 21 & under
employed at the
beginning of the end
times. To be another
dunce dancing on the
edge of credit.
To be four degrees
of separation from the
coming insurrection.
To be (forgive us) young,
dumb & full of cum amidst
the sixth extinction.


I stayed behind
& watched the
City stay the City.
Its bumrush of
cafés & bike lanes
retrofitting our
fight landscape.
It’s prettier for
sure in spots:
the invisible
hand having
turned the block
over like Jersey
did your mother’s

The whole neighborhood
turned inside out but the
sky still went rhododendron
red night after night.


Seagulls’ bickering
ballet over the freight
turbine’s fish spray.
Lift bridge turns on
a hinge like the lift
lid desk Vincent
dropped on Chris’s
head. You can
rewrite a neighborhood
with a molotov pen.
It’s $500 a house.
They’ll sell for 400k
by the next decade.


They replaced
single family homes
with fully militarized
homeless patrols.
When the house caught fire
I grabbed Shorty
the house painter
& he pulled
that old man out.
He went to prison
for ten years
a few weeks later.
First, he got a plaque
from the mayor:
‘Citizen of the Year.’


I’ve always had a knack
for memorizing birthdays
which comes in handy
when I search the state
& county databases
for disappeared classmates.
It’s either that or pry
rumors at the gas station.
Post-release, social media
fills in the details the state
elided: if they survived it.


Those days it was easier
to imagine the end of capitalism
than getting sober. The tables
have burned & turned. The
bridge the water runs under
has lifted. The instinct to forgive
has been forgiven. Give us this
day, our daily bread, and forgive
nobody. All property is theft.


© Brendan Joyce, 2019


  • Brendan Joyce is a busboy and organiser on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, USA. These poems are a selection from his chapbook, Character Limit, which was posted live on Twitter over a few weeks. His first full length collection, Leave Land, will be out in early 2020.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

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