American Sad / J. D. Schraffenberger


American Sad

poems by

J. D. Schraffenberger

40 pages, ISBN: 978-1-59948-972-8, $13 (+ shipping)

Release Date: January 25, 2024

The Advance Sale Discount price on this title has expired. For those who prefer to pay by check, the price is $17/book (which includes shipping & sales tax) and should be sent to: Main Street Rag, 4416 Shea Lane, Charlotte, NC 28227-7001. 


J. D. Schraffenberger is editor of the North American Review and professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the author of two books of poems, Saint Joe’s Passion and The Waxen Poor. His other work has appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, including Best of Brevity, Best Creative Nonfiction, Notre Dame Review, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He lives in Iowa with his wife, the novelist Adrianne Finlay, and their two daughters.

AMERICAN SAD is deeply moving, unnerving, provocative, darkly comic, and thoroughly recognizable. Written in a deceptively declarative style, Schraffenberger’s poems are down-and-out, oracular visions of midlife in the heart of the country. This is a collection of loneliness and grief, of bodily and familial disappointment and decay, but the beauty of the language suggests that a remedy for despair is music and wit, self-revelation and -disclosure, poetry.” ~Dan O’Brien


Schraffenberger’s vivid, nuanced collection centers on the speaker’s intoxicatingly offbeat childhood. It’s a past with an “uninflated kiddie pool a rake with broken tines,” where “none of us was ever getting out alive.” Jam-packed with oddball beauty, AMERICAN SAD embraces the mystery of who we are–our inherited traits–and what we might become. Despite “a peculiar American sadness that lasts forever,” these wildly idiosyncratic poems offer up a story of both dread and hope. ~Martha Silano


Jeremy Schraffenberger is a poet of broken people and things, from the great-grandfather found hanging in the barn to the player piano “slumped over and losing its brittle teeth.” Yet, even as he immerses us in the sights and smells of this world, Schraffenberger takes us on surreal flights of fancy, “in the dim pressurized cabin” of his brain, somewhere between waking and dreams. Here is an “American sadness” illuminated by uncompromising vision and intelligence. ~Martín Espada



The yellow vinyl floor curled at its brittle edges
On top of the fridge in a bowl my father’s wallet coins I pilfered
To buy cigarettes he found a pack of Bull Durhams and wrote
SLOW SUICIDE in all-caps Sharpie twenty years later I quit smoking
I swigged nips of vanilla extract ate bars of baking chocolate
What does it mean to run in the family to skip a generation
In my grandmother’s fridge school cartons of chocolate milk
She was a hairnet lunch lady in the good part of the bad part of town
I always imagine hypothetical kitchens as her tiny kitchen smelling of gas
Who knows what’s in the freezer you could walk out to the back deck
The doorway to the basement and three stairs up the telephone landing
Not even room for a table but I put one there in my memory
Red Formica and chrome where I can smoke and drink coffee
Her emphysema she had TB young and pretty I have the pictures
Her stories at the end were all the same one hospital after another
Oxygen tanks and tubes years ago I know she wanted to die maybe even tried
My instinct to hide away from the world is her terrible gift to me
Which I give to my daughters what’s the difference between wanting to die
And doing it I remember too few things people I love have said to me
The words their voices and faces what they were trying to say
I turn the stove knob I wait for the burner click to ignite





The evening dogs are on the loose again
Chasing the neighborhood kids up into a tree
We stay there all night carve our names in bark
We play rock paper scissors to see who’ll climb down
We braid each other’s hair we sip the dew from leaves
We’re hunkered low in the understory dark
It rains the next morning and we take off our clothes
Beat our skinny chests like the apes we long to be
A year later the dogs are still circling below
Their blue-black fur shimmers in the sun
They teach each new litter of pups to hunt
They have wills of their own they have designs
One of us learns the language of birds
Another becomes a rush of green wind
The rest seal their eyes shut with sap
The rock is for power the paper is for words
The scissors are too heavy for our little fingers
Have you ever accidentally read the same book twice
Sometimes you can almost picture how you’ll die
You see a car the ditch rain through the window
I climb up out of the dark to see the neighborhood whole
It’s the shape of a mirror it’s the shape of a hole
This is where you grew up all those years ago
You’ll return home once you climb down it’s getting late
I can’t remember what else happens but I know
The colors of the world are a reflection of the sky
I know the patient dogs will wait me out to the end





After the overnight shift I am the morning dead
Wading through the blue-black parking lot marsh
The great pink amplitude of my soul is beaten thin
New sun whimpers behind a row of green dumpsters
I’ve spent my childbearing youth in this superstore
Give me back my breaths my every throb of blood
Here is the receipt for my knees my neck give it back
In my pocket I find a warm egg instead of my keys
Its pulse says something in the language of breezes
The only reason to tell a story is to get to the end
Trucks tumbling down the distant road go home
Yellow streetlamps wink out they cool in the dew
It doesn’t matter who you were only what you’ll be
The creature writhes inside its egg hungry for light
I am the high priestess of calm my delicate ribs flutter
Pavement tar steams my underskin has gone cold
My tongue and lips stiffen my tired feet unclench
Who knows what time tomorrow my shift will start
Now is the only time we’ll ever have for anything new

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