Midnight Sunrise / Joseph Kerschbaum


Midnight Sunrise

poems by

Joseph Kerschbaum

ISBN:  978-1-964277-09-7, ~80 pages, $15 (+ shipping)

Release Date: July 16, 2024

The Advance Sale Discount price on this title has expired. For those who prefer to pay by check, the price is $19/book (which includes shipping & sales tax) and should be sent to: Main Street Rag, 4416 Shea Lane, Charlotte, NC 28227. For wholesale prices, please contact: editormsr@outlook.com

PLEASE NOTE: Ordering in advance of the release date entitles the buyer to a discount. It does not mean the book will ship before the date posted above and the price only applies to copies ordered through the Main Street Rag Online Bookstore.

Joseph Kerschbaum is the author of nine books and chapbooks of poetry and two spoken word albums. His latest publications include Midnight Sunrise (Main Street Rag, 2024), Mirror Box (Main St Rag, 2020), and Distant Shores of a Split Second (Louisiana Literature Press, 2018). Joseph’s recent work has appeared in Reunion: The Dallas Review, Hamilton Stone Review, The Inflectionist Review, and The Main Street Rag. Joseph lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with his family.

Midnight Sunrise is a duende-filled magic carpet ride through the seemingly inconsequential moments of life: dinner with friends, tucking a child into bed. But as Kerschbaum eloquently reveals, nothing is inconsequential. After all, “any ordinary Tuesday in a doctor’s office can sever/the narrative of a life in progress.” In language both vivid and precise, Kerschbaum masterfully captures not only the significance of these moments, but their exquisite and often bittersweet beauty. I’m grateful to him for this luminous reminder that every split second is a gift. ~Kim Noriega, author of Name Me


Midnight Sunrise is a debut that breaches edges and grasps the Earth. With gentle yet unnerving attention, Kerschbaum invites the familiar and for granted to wild the heart once more. These poems pulse with awe—for loved ones, for one’s lineage, for life itself. With each breath taken, there is a hand reached. With each precise observation comes a gesture inward, toward mystery. The ghosts are living. The ghosts “haunt/ our suspended selves.” ~Elizabeth Metzger, author of Lying In


A discern curator of the deep image, Joseph Kershbaum renders the ordinary unordinary—if not the domestic made terrifying—in lines as well-manicured as the proudest suburban lawn. His narrator, however, is painfully aware that “manicured lawns / are the byproduct / of pushing back / against the world / that wants to grow wild” (“Weed Garden”). Dripping with sonorousness, masterfully sequenced, each poem advances to the inevitable sense that, as Frost put it, “the final poem is the book itself.” ~Lissa Kiernan, author of The Whispering Wall & Founding Director of The Poetry Barn


A beautiful creation of song and scar, of emotional complexity and simple witness, Midnight Sunrise mingles the natural and human worlds in a series of compelling, remarkably honest poems. From bountiful harvest to decay, the landscapes he presents us with are deeply intertwined with and impacted by our identities. Brimming with both linguistic precision and intimate grace, these vibrant poems remain grounded in a universal familiarity that opens us up to something much greater.
~John Sibley Williams


Naked Windows

In the early dark of winter evenings,
I am the anonymous figure that walks
the right angles of neighborhood blocks
& fishbowl cul-de-sacs. Buried
under layers of a wool sweater
& quilted black puffer coat,
only my eyes are exposed to the cold.
Under each streetlight,
I breach the glowing radius,
a few steps later, I absorb back
into the thick blanket of shadows.

What was hidden behind
swaying summer foliage
is now undressed between
thin naked branches
shivering in the breeze.
Dim light from windows
are shimmering portals
into other lives in progress.

Inspired by the warm glow,
silent winter air & perceived serenity
inside a stranger’s house,
my mind conjures a narrative
of happiness or love
or at least contentment.

Somewhere out of frame,
hardship stalks, regret festers.
Those things that don’t cast a shadow
when they perch like a congress of crows
on your shoulders.

On my cold excursion, I pause
to regard the shining portal
into the Johnsons’ lives.
We have exchanged less than
a grocery list worth of conversation.
The couple sits at their dining room table
covered in a collage of scattered papers
that could be crossword puzzles searching
for their last words, mixed with impatient
utility bills & divorce papers heavy
as bricks that wait for a second signature.

My fellow nightwalkers witness
a familiar stranger in a kitchen
washing dishes. From the sidewalk,
you can’t see someone pushing away the sky
as the invisible wreckage mounts.
Clean countertops shine. Can you see
the scaffolding holding me upright?



Ghost Story



he is standing
right next to you
Kristin says pointing at empty air
can you feel him
holding your hand

he is real she insists
they are best friends
he misses his parents
you can share mine she says

the sitting room next to the kitchen
with baby-blue shag carpeting
used to be his bedroom
Kristin reveals
this is where he died

stop joking about him
as if he can’t hear you
she says
his name is Albee

her unwavering conviction
almost convinces the adults
who still think this is a party game


“Wait, you really knew these people?”
my daughter interrupts
to clarify that this is a true story.

“Albee slept at the foot of Kristin’s bed
& his breathing sounded like
unwrapping Christmas presents?”

The specter in my story is spooky enough.
My daughter is more enamored
with the other ghosts.


lined up in a single file row
arranged by size & color
shoes from every closet
appear in the upstairs hallway
overnight when Aunt Janice is home alone
in the morning she almost snaps her ankle
bounding down the stairs & out of the house
no one ever confesses
to the prank


deep in a contentious game of hearts
on Thanksgiving evening
an entire deck of playing cards
clears off the table
as if a miniature invisible tornado
descended into the dining room
our screams dissolve
into uneasy laughter

in the northwest bedroom
a window creaks open
then slams shut
on its own
more than once
when we investigate
flurries drift
through the open window
winter isn’t the only thing
chilling the air

this is how Albee
makes his presence known
to everyone else in the family

no one thinks
you’re a bad boy
Kristin consoles him

that’s OK
comforting nothing in the corner
she says
I don’t know what year it is either


“Can we go there?” my daughter asks,
wanting to see the old farmhouse
with faulty wiring that burned down
decades ago.

On the map, I guide her finger
to a small black dot,
the one-stoplight town
where I grew up. We can go there
but can’t return
to the story’s setting.
The people are just as gone
as the house.

“No, I don’t know
where everyone went.”
There were fallouts, dropouts,
& folks who move away, pass away,
drift away with time & distance.
We all dispersed
like wisps of cigarette smoke.

Dying isn’t the only way
to become a ghost.


wearing loose-fitting
faded church clothes
an old couple
knock on the door
on a gray Sunday afternoon

they ask to visit their old house
if it isn’t an imposition

they haven’t been here
since their young son
died of tuberculosis

Albert was a very good boy they say
aches as if it happened only yesterday

they depart withered
in their long sadness


Longing for a dramatic revelation
or a surprising twist,

at least something unexpected,
my daughter is disappointed.

There is no spine-tingling conclusion
or breath-snatching jump scare,

only the slow dissolution
of everyone

into variations of ghosts.

She asks if this
will happen to us —



Again for the First Time


In the universal black & white Steak ‘n Shake
uniform, the waitress takes our lunch order.
On the checkered table that never changes,
she places glasses of water & a black coffee.
Even over decades, the coffee is still
the same burnt offering. Bring it to my lips & sip.
Porcelain clicks when the white cup
touches the saucer — I am transported

back to an identical Steak ‘n Shake
states away, twenty years ago.
A mirror image of my younger self
sits in a selfsame booth & sips
from an identical cup as I talk with Tony.
Fresh from our fourth screening
of Pulp Fiction at the dollar cinema.
After midnight, we are high, wired,
& tired as we dissect
the narrative threads that tie
this film to Reservoir Dogs.
Tony is delighted to see John Travolta
dance on screen again. Saturday Night Fever
is one of his favorites. The fluorescent lights

are more severe than I remember. Is Tony’s smile
always this muted, barely there? He forever wears
the same gray t-shirt, but it’s more tattered
& stained now that I look closer. So many clues
unnoticed. On this refracted evening,
I don’t know Tony is sleeping in his van.
Or he has gone off his meds or that he was on
meds at all. Or he stopped showing up
for his warehouse job. Or the weed we smoked
was stolen from his sister’s boyfriend.
Or his mother said not to call again.
Only after did I learn all of this.
This is us. We don’t go deep. We dissect
films, books, or philosophy. Score
the next joint. Crash the next party.
That isn’t what he needs. Tonight

doesn’t have to be a failure. I scream
with my ghost voice which is nothing more
than circulating air conditioning. With every ounce
of ghost focus, I slam my ghost fist on the table
but nothing happens. There is nothing to do
but watch this scene, know that it was good,
& it would be one of our last together.
The exhausted third shift waitress refills my coffee cup,
the porcelain clicks. Another steaming sip —

I’m shocked back to the present with a burning tongue.
Lunch rush swirls around us,
my daughter asks if I want to play
tic-tac-toe on the back of her paper placemat.
I look over my shoulder
for my future ghost self
who is observing us.
I try not to let him down.

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