This week we feature a new poem by Kerry James Evans. Evans is the author of Bangalore (Copper Canyon). He received his MFA in creative writing from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and his Ph.D. in English from Florida State University. He is the recipient of a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Agni, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. He is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Florida State University.
—for Joseph Self
Spokes rattling cardboard, we popped sun-blistered blacktop
with our Huffy tires. We raced for eight miles,
missing supper, only to stop in Hubbertville, where we shared grape soda
and a sleeve of crackers. Later, we ate mushrooms
in a stranger’s field, then jacked off in separate bushes.
Mine was elderberry. I remember the red branches.
When I left, you weren’t yet married, or divorced, or remarried, or shot.
You had sex before I did. I remember that, too.
I remember you missing a block in a game, and the wind
escaping my lungs like a submerged volleyball bursting from water,
and when I laid blame, you pegged my nuts
with your fist and told me, Be strong, you stupid fuck,
which I’m sure you heard from your linebacker brother.
O, Alabama! O, sweet gums lining the lawn!
Lately, dying wisteria petals decide for me.
My wife says, They’re full of bugs, don’t touch them.
I turned off the lights, flipping the plastic nose,
and though my house is dark, I pace barefoot
thumbing an electronic cigarette between my lips,
and I want a Camel Turkish Gold like an ’87 Dodge Ram
wants gasoline. I breathe in nicotine-laced vapor,
and gag, memory’s flack trail working past my diaphragm
and up through my esophagus. What could I have done?
A once-a-year phone call cannot direct a shotgun shell.
He fell away from the Lord, my grandmother said,
and for six months we all thought suicide, until your wife
crawled out from under the bed—where we hid from your brother—
and traipsed into the police station, confessed.
For vegetable soup I cut an onion with a chef’s knife.
I cut six red potatoes, one sweet, two carrots,
and three stalks of celery. I cut with my left hand,
holding each ingredient with my right, and I cut
to the cutting board, never slicing my finger.
I add garlic powder. I add salt and pepper.
I add the spices my mother taught me, and then I add
the spices my wife’s mother taught her.
I add a pinch of cumin, a can of peas
and a can of okra, and by now, the water is boiling.
We smoked. We drank your father’s Bud Light
from the garage. We talked about girls.
I promised that when I moved away,
we’d call every Sunday after church let out.
Our children might even marry.
We talked about weddings—
two adolescent men drunk in a field,
surrounded by limousine cows,
we walked our unborn over paths
we cleared with a machete, cow-patty roses
blooming to a far-off organ. Above us, heat lightning
poked through a cloud. We invited each bolt.
You were afraid of abduction by extraterrestrials.
I remember you mostly, because I, too, am afraid.
I shoot roman candles
at a magnolia
on the state line. It
won’t burn. I try
holding four, two
per hand, and I bombard
the white flowers,
each a target framed
by waxed leaves.
A cardinal flutters to
another tree. The flames
dissipate. Nothing more.
You wore khaki cargo shorts,
a white T-shirt and tennis shoes.
It’s not much to remember.
Fungus hallucination, blurred, postcard moon.
lined the horizon, their bodies
hovering above the alfalfa. They swayed,
their limbs extending beyond
the long grass, and when they spoke,
you shivered, night turning cold.
We hung our clothes on the fence.
I held your ear to my chest,
while you cussed a deer’s glowing eyes.
We lay back on the grass, the sky shattered with knives.