Last Call


(for Matthew O. Cleveland)


You came to New York

bearing a hat because your hair,

like the last dead leaves

of winter, had been shaken loose,

the branches now bare and

waiting for summer to renew

your lease on life.


Prednisone became the new ambrosia,

thickened your arms into tree trunks

so you could carry a forty pound

backpack more than ten city blocks

with a smile that cut the sun.


Only the blossom in your eye

outpaced your laughter,

slowed its pace long enough

for you to drink from the quarter moon

as if it were the sea.


As a boy you knew

boundaries were bones

to be broken under a father’s rage,

transformed yourself into a galaxy

of stories and endless

rounds of whiskey to stave

off the night’s encroaching 

blindness, your final breath

the gasp of every newborn’s cry.

Nancy Hightower has had poetry published in The New York Quarterly, decomP, Spry, Heavy Feather Review, Longleaf Review, and Drunk Monkeys, among others. Her first collection of poetry, The Acolyte, was published in 2015 by Port Yonder Press. In April 2018, she was granted a micro-residency at the Strand Bookstore by The Poetry Society of New York as part of their joint Poet-A-Day Project.