Josh Kalscheur


The room where we dance.
The room with pool cues
and eight-balls, lights that last
a brown-out, lights we stole
from the runway. The room
with posts we swing from.
The culture we designed
bends tonight, we shake our hips at it.
There are people touching
for the first time who love
each other. Women dragging boys
on the floor when the music settles
to an even beat, a bass-laid trance.
Women shotgunning Red Horse
who tomorrow will meet their husbands
on the road. Anyone can come here
if they sing the right words.
Anyone can come
if they flash a piece of ivory nut.
We paint our lips red and kiss
the women we know will love
the mark it makes
in the clouded moonlight,
the cracks in the thatch.
Where do we go from here,
except against the wall
with our hands over our heads?
The boys ready their sticks
and red cloths.
The turtle we pray to
sings what he sings and that’s enough.



Before we fly to Fort Benning
we buy a case of Asahi and talk shit
to the Peace Corps kid from Alabama
who trumps up his summers in Tuscaloosa,
how there the concrete turns to sludge.
Bull, my brother tells him, big fucking deal,
even the native sons here sleep in the meetinghouse
when the sun blazes or the generator jams
and the Air-Con goes dead. We walk off

and ditch him and set up shop in a spot
with barely even a tree, down by the tire-fixing place
near the road, near a stream feeding out
to the lagoon, getting a little drunk before
the beer starts to taste like piss. We aim wads
of betelnut at rats darting from the pipe
with old Maxi Pads in their mouths, but who cares?
Right? We know what’s going on. We do
that dumb march with our knees and heels

and cock-eye a salute to the spray-painted sign
of the bank across the road. Is that how to get ripped?
Just prancing and acting fancy? Just screaming back
at the goofy red-faces, the yellow-teeth telling us
to climb a rope just because it’s good practice?
We’ll be the ones whose veins sprout up behind
our legs, the kind of mutant muscles from the magazines,
the grunts posing in back page ads with nipples
like bulletheads. My brother makes one of those faces

like he’s choking, like he can’t get something off
the ground. He says our photos will hang
at the Guam airport, blown up and framed
in the lobby, in the high-traffic spot, just the glitter
of the clicking signs shining over them, our skin
smooth with coconut oil, full-colored with the camo-green
and brown, the berets set straight, the backdrop flag 
crisp. We make those faces to each other, the stern ones, 
the business-ones where we almost go cross-eyed,

but my brother says I look like I might cry or start
begging when my forehead creases so we cover up
our faces with our bandannas, laughing like real kids.
I put my finger in the top of a pipe, and my brother points
at the run-down shack near the jungle, spinning around
by the rail-edge, about to fall over or mangle a foot
in the gravel, trying to snort the dust rising
from the ground. This is like a sandstorm he says,
like the waves of an actual desert.


Josh Kalscheur

Josh Kalscheur's first collection of poetry, Tidal, won the 2013 Four Way Books Levis Prize and will be published in Spring 2015. His poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from Boston Review, Slate, and The Iowa Review, among others. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin.