Captions for a Picture Magazine

by Jonathan Austin Peacock

“You are quite possibly impatient with me by now; I am talking, you want to say, about a “morality” so primitive that it scarcely deserves the name, a code that has as its point only survival, not the attainment of the ideal good. Exactly.”

-Joan Didion, “On Morality”


You don’t know. You weren’t there.
And furthermore, on this matter
pardon my blitz of fragmentation
and splices.
There was a time,
namely in the sixties, although

the details escape me,
when the world found something
in dwelling in Sacramento.
I won’t call it joy, or living,
for none of us are ever
really alive
until Sacramento
is in the rearview, and we’re
San Fernando Valley-bound.

Hemingway once said
something about loose words
losing their edge,
and despite my broken
narrative, I could not agree
more. Ironically

I read that quote
from a quarter-zine

one evening when
the broken world lost
its zeal,
and yesterday

I recall the world set ablaze
and needed to remove
myself from this

of pen-to-page
and so forth.


And yet the story I have
to tell of that
broken world
revolves in sentences
and might go
a bit astray,
like this:

“Why do we like those stories so?”

So what?

Recall the Titanic sinking beside Zelda Fitzgerald
and the literati…
…out to get me

surely, as the sixties did,

the guilt, the power, the inflection
of the nineteenth century,
and later
Howard Hughes owns Nevada.

The bastard.


You don’t know. You weren’t there.
And by that logic,
shame on those who
enjoyed The Panic in Needle Park
because of what I did
or didn’t
know about heroine. About
drugs and the intoxication
of co-writing.

Venture to Broadway and 72nd Street
and I’ll show a drug problem.

At once I am
reminded this letter
is to reach
the a voice of separation in

the broken ship
of dreams and golden
otherwise known as



There was the time
I shot a

…maybe that was
a Clapton song,
but the timing fits.


As it happens, I am
committed to the
of the Self, and
by the Self I surely
mean the soul, and by
language I surely mean
my mastery of it.

You must master
the language before
you can fuck it up.

That is the problem
with the world, with
the hydroelectric
power plants and nuclear
with the drowning
world and misdiagnoses
of mysterious
nerve disorders (the
ones so severe I may hardly
remember my entry to
this point…),

with the armies of self-respect
and damnation:

They don’t know. They weren’t there.
I know. I was there.
I know I was there.


I have no crucifix in hand.
I have no kindness or self-deception.

I have no feminism or
reminiscence of cause-and-effect

rewinding in my mind.
Things begin to line-up, and

I speak only through the clatter
of typewriter keys and outside

is a southern California

In Sacramento we call earthquakes
the results of compelling conversation.

But this is no Sacramento.

You know these ruminations
to be true,
the vague and unknown
third party:

So far, separated and rightfully so.

Resistance is the color
of anxiety,
of Citalopram and codeines and whiskey
in a summer window

overlooking a world
of consumerism and
my essay on going home.

And so there is only this—
You don’t know. You weren’t there


Author Bio
Jonathan Austin Peacock was born in Pensacola, Florida and began writing poetry as a high school student. More >

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