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Fog on the Little Maumelle.jpg


When I stuck my fist in the whiskery cage,

the crickets sang my skin alive.

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Foggy Path (monochrome). Two Rivers Park


Jesse Breite, native of Little Rock, Arkansas, currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Emily, and their two kids. Jesse’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Rhino, New Orleans Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Tar River Poetry, Ruminate, Anglican Theological Review and many other journals and magazines. He has been featured in Town Creek Poetry and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume V: Georgia. Breite has read for The Decatur Book Festival and The Georgia Poetry Society. His poem, “Space Odyssey,” was featured downtown as part of Elevate Atlanta 2012, and he has been a finalist in book prizes from The Texas Review Press and Red Mountain Press. FutureCycle Press published his chapbook, The Knife Collector, in 2013. He was also an associate poetry editor for The Kentucky Review and Good Works Review

Breite started collaborating with Atlanta Composer Michael Kurth in 2015. Since then, he has written libretto for three of Atlanta Composer Michael Kurth’s scores, Magnificat, Tenebrae, and Miserere, the latter of which the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed in March 2018 and recorded in 2019 on the ASO’s album on Michael Kurth’s works, Everything Lasts Forever.  

Currently, Jesse teaches high school in Atlanta, Georgia, but has taught high school English for twenty years in Chicago, Baltimore, Asheville, and Atlanta. He has served as department chair, published on teaching practice in EdWeek Teacher, and has been awarded multiple summer study grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Mercer University. 

Image: "Foggy Path (monochrome). Two Rivers Park. Little Rock. 2019." 

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My father doesn't understand—

why my sister puts a needle into

her bloodstream to feel feelings.


He is of old St. Louis, its slow alleys,

its crawling river. Pistols, he gets,

and Budweisers, what burns under


the hood of a Ford, but not this fine

specimen of hypermagical continuous.

Dad sees things plain and stubborn,


not with my distant, simple eyes,

not with Mom’s grave regrets.

I want to write the story easier


than silence, in the soft language

of greeting or fridge magnets, so even

grandparents and cousins can get it.


I see students every day. I wonder

where their easy, logical choices

will lead them. I drive the roads


to work in Atlanta. They’re beaten

shit-brown and hard black. They’re ready,

I think. I hear the hurt in Mom's voice.


Dad says, please, I don't often talk about it.

And Jane, she is the poorest of spirit.

This, I tell him, is what it means to be blessed.


Monday night, I sprain my ankle

playing ball. And I keep playing.

At my place, my foot swells brown

around the heel, black in the toes.


Mom calls. Her voice is afraid.

My sister hasn’t come home in days. 

Last time, they found her 

emptied car before picking her up.


At three a.m., I wake up, take a piss,

feel blood stutter through the lumps 

in my bruised ankle. Back in bed,

my foot throbs like a dying fish.


The log of my body writhes over

a dull fire spreading nervously.

I curse until it eases, enough

to sleep.

                  I dream of my father

and his knife collection. Each one

with a smooth handle—whale bone

or steel, bearing alien monograms.

He sits on a squeaky, wooden chair,

chews Red Man, hones a warm blade.

He spits and says, keep this here fine,

and you won’t even feel it go through.  


Poetry Chapbook

“The Knife Collector is one of the most striking first collections I have read. His poems are clear-eyed and, often dreamlike, as they carry the reader through landscapes half-familiar while igniting something deeper than memory. Indeed, Breite’s work depends on the elemental just as much as it does biography—this is not a mere collection of anecdotes, but a poetry that works for all it can give, a set of truths made more believable and more significant via a masterful blending of the real and the mythic.”

—William Wright, senior editor of The Southern Poetry Anthology and author of Night Field Anecdote


He sits out on the fence—the ole fat-bellied  

sheriff of the backyard. He don’t mess around,  

dressed to serve, protect, take shot  

at squirrels, barricade their nut-hungry paths. 

O bird, save us from bugs: eat the termites.  

Drive off hovering dragonfly, goonish mosquito.  

Dive at the mailman who offers only bills.  

Save mama from her libraries of worry. 

Keep pop from his beer-bubbled smugness. 

Steal my sister’s smoke. Stave off the cancers. 

Bathe in the rippled cement of our hearts. 

Lead us far from the moon’s gravity.  

Forgive our mispronounced passions. 

Let us not fail our oracles, our loan checks.  

Fly up the pine and croon to Moses  

of stony hearts, strung minds, marbled soul. 


Maybe she thought that easy line— 

Whatever you want to do is alright with me—

was for her, Mary Woodson White,

perhaps it was for her—the one who walked 

into Al Green’s Memphis mansion,

to find her sometime lover on a Friday?  

Maybe it was because four months earlier, 

“Let’s Get Married” shot up the charts, 

and she waited for a parallel lyric,

something more than the skinny shirtless man

pulling a fantasy gun on Greatest Hits ’75? 

Whatever moved her, it must’ve been 

a torrid spell—only got by scalding grits 

flung on his back while he settled in a warm tub 

and by a bullet, right then, to her own head—

and it must’ve been hell enough to drop him 

to his knees at his sharecropper daddy’s church,

to raise him up in the Full Gospel Tabernacle

for the rest of his free-born days—how 

the last words she wrote—The more I trust you, 

the more you let me down—became the one 

note he could never choose to give up.  




We never owned a boat, but we dreamed

of boats when we dipped our hands 

in the river. My father taught me to stand,

to gaze into water. On the banks 

we waited for something, but it wasn’t a boat.

We knew that it went into the water,

that it would come out, that the black Nissan

truck drove hard, snarled on the route. 

Dad flipped his wrist, taught me to throw

a little tooth with invisible line 

to invisible water, that it could grow weight. 

The spears we held gave us a language

we wrote in the air. As we sat, Dad pulled

worms from dirt, fit them to the hook.

If you set it right, he said, there is no pain—

not for the worm, not for the fish.

When I stuck my fist in the whiskery cage,

the crickets sang my skin alive.   

And still we waited—what we pulled

from the river was the river—liquid muscle,

speckled with our fingertips. Some fish

transfigured in the sunlight. We held them

as long as we could before giving them back.


“and for the time remained stupidly good” - Paradise Lost, Book IX

Always a pause before the dazzle

after the brink, a blank. 

The thing that awes you, stuns you, 

plants the wow in your mouth. 

Always the space before what comes, 

departs. The line is where 

you sign your name. Threshold, 

your choice. The fruit 

you juice—what curls your tongue.

Say what you saw, saw what you can

right down through the eye

of the wood, the pith of the trunk.

But it’s lost as soon as you find

the beauty of beauty’s invisible 

bridges. Call it the wind 

that hides you, the breeze 

that forgives. Call it the sky blue 

sky that proceeds, finishes 

through feeling, hinge of

the marvelous—what opens 

what closes. Call it the woman’s face—

the one you love or the one 

you hardly know, that leaves you

dumbstruck, stupid-good

before what happens next.

RHINO Vision Reading

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Libretto Excerpt by Jesse Breite

And now, my breath breaks on the name of God,

to seek, find, redefine the broken time.

I delight the loam, the long, cold-cracked road,

where I am ever-born and tendril-sweet.

Recall my life, old ringed world, 

my blood-red Lord bright in these limbs 

and flourishing still.

Libretto Excerpt by Jesse Breite

Movement V., starting at 15:35

I stood alien at the crossroad,

unjarred my mouth, 

held forth my hand, but none knew my name.

How I grew weak, touch-broke and needful

under the hurt-tree. 

My eyes raked the pavement for scraps

and swallowed.

My bones unbuckled and leaked.

My heart bled vinegar. 

None read the sacred verse of my skin.

None unsaddled my sorrowful limbs.     


Libretto by Jesse Breite


You must first look past 

the little corpses, the useless limbs,

the clown-faced fools 

who wear your name, the calcified 

pressures of shame. 

You must stage the terrible romance

over your eyes, cut out 

the tongues of the poor, 

unsee widows, orphans 

dropping coin into kettles.

Stuff the shorn heads with silver—

silver tongues, silver eyes,

silver-sweet hellos and goodbyes. 

Reach your hand in, brush against God-flesh.

Tear the freshly broken bread.

How can you account 

the cost, looking back before you scry?

How can you doubt

your own satisfactions when the sun

drops like a circular

saw into the earth’s tired face—

its keen blades searing the great rolling eye?


Gimme the broke skin, 

metal thorned wrist and foot,

blood volcanic wound-core—

its purple tongue-swell,

the hurt curtains draping 

the face with sweat and gore

Gimme the flesh filleted by cheers,

the wood turnt on the horizon,

the cut wet stuck to these fingers,

the ooze of adoration lost,  

the shame-murmuring shadows,

the heartless fist of angels,

body wretched of all feeling

Gimme the sinister air, 

the voice emptied of its

gravelly depths, the buzzed-

grass burnt hill, 

the prickled skull spotted red 

and achey with lack

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