John Sullivan πŸ”ˆ

That Ugly / Big Refinery Across the Street Doesn’t Like Us

(The baleful eyes of the Valero Refinery / in the Manchester Neighborhood on the East Side of Houston TX blink on & off / on & off / on & off … and forth the red-throat flare doth spew.)


The Houston Ship Channel rots between its banks (documented by greedy LiDAR / for so-so many shredded moments); it slows down my pulse to nearly stone-dead (our newest trending symptom) these days, & we lay here on our own wet / moldy mattress, & listen just a little, but mostly lie straight through our pearlies to buttress that fake (sigh!) gone fat-city world we can hold, now, only in our heads, that slow haze & wheeze of fog breathing, curling up off empty water, unfurling like a Jolly Roger, calls out to us.


There was once more – is that still true, fool, or did we bend the mirror backwards? Back once was terra-fluida, pools of tar & bygone bones, or so we hear – then we geared up to frack, rock, wrack all these sediments where we back once walked, played kick-the-can, we’ve ginned up hours of cough / cough / cough, hacked up soot & gloom: filled this river up with sand, traitor-secrets, (proprietary) doom-poison turns in our ears, now, like old milk turns rough (scabby!), sours under our dirty southern moon.

Now sunrise, also, comes too soon, the sun stays up too late, & glowers back, the moon sours pretty quick, too.

& my lie-eye needs more distance (just!) for (simple!) looking, more & more of it to keep an old lie’s shine cooking, an old lie’s skin so sweet.

So I leave my own skin on but I still shiver, listen: how bats crash together, all night, flop around, noses buried, fuzzy all-in-white damaged inner-gyros / inner-clocks screwed-on backwards, flying all antigoglin (crazy!) outside when they should be inside, soon, they forget to sleep, forget what to eat & when, forget “how high the moon?”


Is this all written down in a book, somewhere, by Sad Giants with febrile (little!) brains?

Maybe, a lost book, a last look, maybe a fugitive, a feigned feeble SOS sends out its tired echo-beam: a nervous quirk of a nervous planet?

A cute little robot (startled “I”!) calls out in a nervous (recurring!) dream: “Mama, where are you? Why must the ‘crown of creation’ die?”

So Little Sister cries out, too: “don’t you leave us here like this.”

So, also, Little Brother screams: “our dreams are some real-bad prophecy. Our dreams are no call-to-vocation / no place you would ever want to be.”

Is it all true? Is it really better? Does it still (or even!) matter? Is it just a cover, or a tale spun into butter? If night air is a (cold!) wet shroud for each stale day, then you might best wear it just that way.

And Little Brother’s sad, unraveling the years & years of don’t even look, don’t ask nothing, don’t tell nothing, too: just let it ride.

And Little Sister’s stretched inside-out, fit to burst, like to shatter: “Your dog-days dining out on young flesh, robbing all our shit / chewing up / grinding down / doing all those cutsie little murders like you do,” yells out she, “are so done, so quit, so gone.

It’s (so-very-much!) you ancient clowns don’t mesh or matter now. But when are you gonna' settle up that open tab, that planetary grab-it-all,” so say both, together:

“when are you gonna' pay your money down?”


Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene: parts per million drool down like fog in all the low places, all the shallows, (pools!) on all our faces, too, when it rains / when it bakes.

That shadow you buried, that ancient seed, what you thought you meant once, back: dig it up (quick!) now you may need it. In your palm it seems to wink back, bunch & bristle up, (calm & cocky?) like it knows something you just don’t; it seems to glow, wicked like any isotope, like any secret (X!) marks the crime, like any wild hunch, however strained, however mine, however like a zygote (or illusion?) of some even stranger (trΓ¨s louche!) mass delusion machine.


But there’s heat here, too, a’plenty, there’s no time left for nothing but the bare fact of grace, there’s whole neuroses of no’s, there’s that same screed / same world, (yammer / yammer-on, it does) sham as always, we still hold it all (only?) in our heads, now, just a trace, a worn-out creed, & an end, maybe, to that same-same human show, maybe, the beginning of a better act – say: what’s need, here, (really!) need, now; say: what’s not –

Containing only that, nothing else, no OmertΓ  written in blood (always / already vanished) & dried-up seed (bitter curse / persisting backward / through antiquity, or?), passed hand-to-pocket (& then, again!), no seal no more on lips, no locked-onto hearts, nothing preordaining nothing: in all its fullness, or in its lack.

“Now, we got to do what we got to do,” Little Brother says. “We’ll get it all back. We’ll write down the how / clock the why / while we do the what.”

“Don’t forget you us, and we’ll remember you,” croons Little Sister – just to complicate the knot. “That’s not so cute or so funny – is it – when your own house is on fire?” so says she.

Again: “Is it, now? Or what?”

Author Reading

About the Author

John Sullivan was an ACTF Playwriting finalist, received the Jack Kerouac Literary Prize, the Writers Voice: New Voices of the West Award, Arizona Arts Fellowships (Poetry & Playwriting), an Artists Studio Center Fellowship, and a WESTAF Fellowship; he was also a featured playwright at Denver’s Changing Scene Summer Playfest, an Eco-Arts Fellow with Earth Matters On Stage, Artistic Director of Theater Degree Zero, and directed the Augusto Boal / Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) wing at the Seattle Public Theater. He uses TO with communities to promote dialogue on environmental and climate justice with environmental health scientists. His work has been published in a variety of print and online venues. Weasel Press published his first book, Bye-Bye No Fly Zone, in December 2019. When Story Stops, the Leak Begins came out from Unsolicited Press (Portland OR) in April 2020 and a collection of performance pieces, Dire Moon Cartoons, was released by Weasel Press in October 2021.