What’re we gonna do tonight? / Lotus-legged circle in Grandma’s den / around a foot-high pile of newspapers to roll / I say we drive down to Huntington / giving good face around the room / the category best friends for Jon and Henri / guest starring cousin Pat and Wesley as Henri’s boo / and go to the Driftwood for drag / boys, ya turn me / Damn I love this song, and then me / teetering off the bass rolling from Jon’s new stereo / from a cassette tape by / a beautiful brown woman in white tee and snug faded jeans / There’s a lot for a Friday paper / upside down round and round, instinctively / Honey, people like sales / Trickle down as a big move up to / any other side of town / respectively, as it were / I say we go to the lake / but I was from a farm, away / from the burn of / knowing, or not
That reporter / dispatched from Tehran / needs to shave / where the claws of metal eagles failed to make fists / Right? Bad news should come from / saturated blues and greens on Grandma’s new RCA / good looking people / But the former actor in the first commercial / Can we watch something else?/ promised a great America again / I mean, you know they’ll kill them all / not knowing the coming need for kindness / Pat, can you reach the dial? / More papers rolled, stacked pyramid / Who the hell’s buying shoes at K-Mart? / Almost time for their bike route / I dunno, honey. Your trailer cousins? / Henri lifted an invisible tea cup to his grin and winked / and Pat laughed, Nah / my ma buys mine at Ungers / and I wiggled my toes / squeezed into unbreathable plastic / brown Payless sneakers
Guys, look. This was my Uncle Reggie / Wesley unfolded a paper / Top left photo, a young black man halfway through / life at the bottom of the obits / sad bits, Grandpa always said / between sips after coming home from the mill / Jeez, lotta dead people today, whole page worth / Imagine dying without your name / no Jon, Henri, Wesley or Pat / just fledglings smashed flat from sudden impact, all flung / into the trash hole behind the horse barn / Was really sorry to hear about him, Wes / into flames angry enough to melt everything, even the boys / later left in trash bags by anxious orderlies passing the bill to hell / Thanks, Pat, but truth, we weren’t close / after heaven refused to help / They think he had cancer / Imagine knowing without / words for your knowledge / but I don’t think they’ll ever know for sure
Ok, let’s wrap this up and get going / Pat finished his pile and mine, unknowingly rubbing / my arm aflame with a feeling he / Folks need to get their news / would articulate loudly a decade later / in a locked stall at the mall / I still say we go to the Driftwood / The papers stuffed into smudged eggshell canvas / bags slung over shoulders / Hey everybody, having fun again? / as they strutted toward the back porch door / as Henri insisted the dress made / by someone named Mackie / was fabulous, like a gown / woven with moonbeams and starlight / and I wanted to / know how they have fun / go with them again / on the handlebars down 4th Street over / Grandma’s objections and Jon’s denials / when my mom found out / I mean it matched her lashes! / that Henri and Wesley were demonstrating French / kissing for Pat the last time Jon / babysat me on Friday afternoon
I can’t believe she / halfway through a daydream about Spider-Man vs the Thing / called us faggots / Laughter opened the door / She didn’t call she yelled / like an old piano finishing / with some jazzy ad libs / notes ahead of the melody as / bags crumpled on the kitchen floor / That’s because she doesn’t know about Bobby / joining the invisibility of wishes and prayers / Or maybe she does / Crosstalk cut the tar cloud / of Grandma’s after-nap slims / like thwip thwips from web shooters trying / to stop Grimm from landing a kapow / ugh who cares! Everyone has a secret. Sooooo, / where it might actually hurt / where are we going tonight? / My mom would be back soon / taking me home with the groceries and pizza, four / loaves of bland wonder / for the deep freezer.
Can we please go back / upstairs in Jon’s room, thigh to thigh with Pat on the lower bunk / to that dress? / Jon closed the door as Henri / adjusted boombox dials, / Because it was everything and the leftovers / restarting the cassette / Is that Miss Ross? / my small crooked finger turning their heads to / the poster of the giant black lady on / the back of the door She seems / shiny like that Mackie / and their laughter smothered the beat and the bass as Jon / took me by the wrists and spun me to dizzy / That’s Grace lil man, Grace Jones, a whole / different kind of goddess / the boys a blur and I wanted to know / Is she fabulous too? / but my fab wobbled loose, flopping / off my lips, my maw not ready / for such girth / Honey, she is / fierce! and she resembled Storm right before she summons lightning to blow up Sentinels
I think she looks like a superhero / Wesley gives me a second spin, higher / and faster, lacking the safety of being kin, thus / She kinda does / possessing a thrill unknown / so like the complete opposite of most people round here / People who might envy the freedom in this room / You’ll figure it out when you’re older / so small so safe / Or he won’t because he’s…not? / but I was / wanted to be / could not imagine / being any other way / Should we be teaching him how to read? / I could already read the newspaper. (Wesley Carter II, 43, died / at the King’s Daughter Hospital on….) / Faces too, but / but I took most note of names, / Is it ever too early? / especially after that they were gone / Have you seen him arch his eyebrow? / and my nights grew too long, the crickets / harmonious mmhmms floating / atop an unheard syncopated chorus of triple snaps
Hailing from the farm valleys of west Appalachia, Ben Kline lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, toiling away on his full-length manuscript Twang while drinking just the right amount of bourbon, but more coffee than seems wise. His work is forthcoming or has recently appeared in Rappahannock Review, Toe Good, Riggwelter, The Mantle, Ghost City Review, apt, ImageOutWrite Vol. 7, The Offing, Impossible Archetype, Ink & Nebula, The Matador Review and many more. You can learn more at www.benkline.online.