1 Down By The Border
Trouble could be a black plume of smoke
bubbling over the city or simply
a cowboy, Semper Fi slapped to his bicep,
a smile like a hawk shadow crossing
his face. “Name’s Shawn. You look as thirsty
as Vegas in July. Buy you a drink?” Toby
Keith on the juke, six o’clock crowd. Get
that buzz going so the buzzing in your brain
stops. Too many bills and pink slips. The ex
ricocheting with the kids for her mother’s
or a brand new badass to stalk their nightmares
like your daddy did (and his daddy before him).
Or mornings he and mom siphoned pseudo
from a boiling vat of cold pills, iodine and ammonia,
back in the toxic wastes of your childhood.
Only now that mom is me, the joker in the bar
sprawls on my sofa yelling at Judge Judy and sucking
a Mountain Dew the way I went after his member
hours ago, caught in a seizure of pleasure
that vanished like my prayers each morning
that all this will stop, a new day will come.
But each day comes just like the last,
and the cops chase all over the border
mule shipments from Mexico, aliens ticking us off,
while that all American dream shatters
in our faces like a piñata spewing
kid after kid who never saw childhood
without crank fires searing through his house,
terror the drug of choice
only we don’t call it terror, we call it
Home, home cooking. We fought over
so we didn’t have
to fight them here—
isn’t that what all them Washington folks say?
But the plague can pull in from any direction
and in the Bible it’s whirling funnels of blood
or locusts, just as now it’s AIDS or the powder
of God you snort up your nostrils
while the fragrant perfume of false paradise
flares in your soul, as if Satan’s already
there waiting, so secret in your heart, pumping
with each beat, each breath,
and you can’t take a step without
hocking him your life one more day?
Shawn yells to shut up the damned baby
that isn’t his, and the one that is
curls inside, thumping my belly,
like the pounding at the door
one day when the Sheriff finally reckons
what everyone on the block knows by now:
Welcome to hell, boy.
Come on in.
2 Just A Tennessee Girl
I keep my hair long like this, thinking it helps.
Beauty, they say’s in the eye of the beholder,
but I know what any beholder eyes in my face
and it ain’t beauty. Nights, I still sift
those beautiful fires in my dreams.
The faces of my friends. A few shards of ice
in my palm. A spoon, a lighter.
Say how do you do to the devil
just before he lights into a liquid pool
of pleasure, soaring through your veins,
vanishing your hangover, your momma’s
new boyfriend, that shitty trailer park
you grew up in till you found this hellhole
just far enough from Nashville so
you can hollar those honky tonk dreams
in your sleep and notch how tuneless
and deadbeat the real song goes.
Selena, Kim and I used to stew up
batches in their apartment, all
pins and needles as we poured
and boiled them chemicals
and I used to think, shit,
I never even got to chemistry class
and here I am, like some mad scientist,
bubbling up brew that might blow us all
to kingdom come. Selena
dubbed us the three witches
and she’d twitch her nose like that blonde
in the old t.v. show, say this potion’s
all we needed to set off on our broomsticks
whirling through town, gathering
whatever cowboys and horses we’d saddle
to ride all night long. “Double bubble,
toil and trouble,” she used to mumble;
once I asked where that came from
and she just laughed, “You know, Josey, high school
and my daddy were both the same.
Never learned a lick from either
‘cept how to drink and get high.”
She was always the smart one, turned us
on to brewing our own (smurfing cold pills
one, two county’s over). Some evenings
we’d drive down to the river,
resting a bit before our nightly battles,
the sun spilling scarlet over the mountains
and we’d tell old war stories, laugh our assess off.
Then we’d go silent, like church,
cicadas sawing through the last light.
Selena would raise her beer--“Girls,
it don’t get any better than this”--
and we’d heave our bottles far as we could,
our rebel yells firing to the next valley.
I think maybe Josey knocked over
the pan, but it don’t matter, the flames
didn’t care, licking my face like the hottest
of lovers, my cheeks melting before his touch
dripping down my chin, droplets of
oily fat I once worried in the mirror.
Funny. Only singed my hair. Strands crackling
in between my screams I didn’t hear,
only the hiss of Satan still whispering, This?
It’s just a taste,
child. There’s more to come.