James Irwin: Unreal

We welcome the poet/singer/songwriter's new album Unreal into the world with two poems and two new songs by Montreal's own James Irwin.



I’m Smoking a Cigarette, You’re Buying a Horse 

I’m smoking a cigarette. I’m smoking a cigarette because 
it’s something you can see me doing that I wouldn’t do, but I can say. 

The passenger window is open and I’m looking out at the winter strawberry field, 
at a few sparrows, and the sun glaring off patches of ice in the furrows. 

You are buying a horse from a man named Warren in the foothills 
who looks like my father. 
Warren breaks wild horses. 
The one you are buying is golden with some white patches, 
scruffy, like a horse in winter. 

That’s how I would describe her and how I like to think of her, 
not in all the various more specific ways you would describe her. 
She is sort of shy as well and has lots of condensation 
around her nostrils and clinging to the whiskers on her face. 

Warren is holding you up, 
with his thumbs in his back pockets on the covered porch, 
flirting with you. 
You are a younger woman buying a horse; 
he is a man who breaks horses, the situation is ripe. 

I am sitting in the truck smoking a cigarette 
and the horse is shuffling in the trailer that we now own. 
We are pulling out onto the flat road 
with the mountains at an indecipherable distance behind us. 

I pass you the cigarette and you take a nice long puff 
and hold it in your two fingers. 
You grip the wheel, as if you’re ringing it out 
and let out a happy sigh like I’ve seen my sister do, as if to say, 
Well fucking hell... Ha! We did it. We got a horse. 

I roll up the window to avoid the dust coming up from the road. 
I can see the horse in the mirror, her nostrils flapping, sniffing at the wind. 

As the cab fills with smoke I think how nice it is to be smoking a cigarette 
and that you bought a horse. 
You really did. 
And I think about where I’d like us to be driving to. 

All Is Life

All is life and life is not much.
Life is pacing back and forth in a house on stilts.

Tonight we wait out the flood,
watch the window. 
Brown water rises,
catfish appear,
not a night for skies.

I turn to her. 

We believe ourselves apart.
Passing a bottle of that buffalo grass vodka. 

She swigs, cheeks flush,
blood lapping at the skin between us. 
I lean in. I lick her teeth and lip.

And all is life and life is not much. 
Life is dancing out of panties on the crooked floor.

We fall asleep, into entirely different dreams. 
She gestures wildly in her sleep. 

I leave. I row out to the river mouth.
I cross the ocean in the tiny boat of my bones. 

I reach the far shore, hung on a wilted body 
like a collapsed tent. My wildness all spent. I can’t speak. 

Men in uniforms pull me from the water,
laughing at my shriveled ass, my rags, my mumbles. 

They think I don’t understand Spanish, but I do.
They say amigo could use some pussy, some wine, a plate of beans. 

No! No, I manage to slur. Let me row!
But they carry me to shore.

They put me in a bed, in blue sheets, damp with sweat. 
I turn and there she is, asleep, snoring, 
arms and legs spread in some outrageous gesture of trust.




James Irwin's new album Unreal is available now.

Natasha Young

Natasha Young is a writer, cultural critic, and reporter. She also authors literary fiction. Born in Portland, Maine, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and études françaises at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. She lives in Los Angeles, California.