The grass that once grew here died when I was a child; the wildflowers along the railroad tracks withered and retreated years before.
And still the River flows, slow and muddy, toward the next town, and then the next one over, the one where he was from.
My gray boots shuffle through the dry dust. The air is stagnant, already hot at six o’clock in the morning. I smack the goddamned mosquito that lands on my bicep. I wipe my own blood on my pants.
The frogs groan and the cicadas are beginning to wake up. And I’m standing by the River, right next to the trestle, where water flows under the tracks. We used to dare each other to get to the other side, always careful not to get our ankles caught between the railroad ties. I always lost, too scared to make it even halfway.
The toes of my boots hang over the water’s edge, too big now to get stuck, as I look back up at the bridge. My heels are firmly planted in the sparse, parched weeds.
This is right about where he drowned, wasn’t it? We’d never really know for sure.
That was in 2004 — 2005? Around when the grass all died, I guess.
The rock I tossed disappears. Sediment is agitated under the surface.
Why here? I ask myself, again.
There is rustling in the weeds. I jump, nearly losing my footing.
“Shit.” I take two steps back from the River. Probably just a frog.
I didn’t throw that one, did I? Probably just a frog. My eyes search the water for the telltale ripples, but they come up empty.
Thudding and sighing, the scraping of steel, announce the approach. The whistle screams, just as it does every Saturday morning about this time, mingles with the cicadas’ rattle. Carrying coal, I think.
I sit down in the dirt by the River, cross-legged, to wait for the train.
John C. Polles is a copyeditor from Northeast Ohio. His creative work has been featured in Kissing Dynamite, Nightingale & Sparrow, Luna Negra, and more. A graduate of Kent State University at Stark, John previously served as Editor-in-Chief of Canto: A Magazine for Literature & Art. You can follow him on Instagram @johncpolles.
To Be Too Late
I wish you decomposition. I wish you
sawdust under your tongue, country on the radio.
Body was never mine but it is less so when we are alone, it & I.
It’s a long drive back to where my father’s second stepfather
shot their cat from the front porch &
I spend that drive counting.
If the afterlife exists it slumbers under gravel
like cicadas in the South, it haunts like
condensation on cheap beer cans, like the cigarette smoke that raised my parents.
I wish you pieces.
This morning I woke up with your jaw in my coat pocket.
Would you like it back?
Can you feel the weight of every bone I am stuck between? Stuck inside?
I wish I saw my hands the way the crest of a wave sees ocean
before becoming it.
But this is my mother’s skin & it is borrowed &
when I don’t see cornfields in the mirror, I see you.
Even in death.
Even with you pinned beneath a gravestone like Atlas pinned beneath the sky.
Morning is clenched-jaw but soft gum, empty cavity &
brain-freeze, eye-whites and pink clouds. Raw lungs,
roadkill. Mother keeps framing the holes in our wall.
Afternoon bares its teeth, barres bruise-blue lips between
grated bone, swelter & throb & heat strumming the
mountains like a six-string. Swelling clouds remind me my sister
once said she always thinks of needles when she sees pregnant
women. Billowing tulips, blooming thunder, flesh & pepper
under nose. She cries like she’s trying to return every blink of
sun she’s ever stolen. Like it might dilute the day into
something digestible. Something crimson, round-ribbed,
tethered electricity, pulled-teeth, a mirror or newborn.
But for now we have only this peaking throb of sun, like
heartbeat’s surrender to flatline, browning arms like kindling
after first ignition, preparing us to be sacrificed whole.
Rebecca Orten is a sixteen year old high school sophomore from Vermont. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Bennington College’s Young Writers contest, and local papers, and is forthcoming in Eunoia Review.
Jessica Knows This Moment
Jessica knows this moment. She tells me she’s been here before. Done this before. Knows what to do. Tells me she can help me become good as new. Tells me I need to burn. Tells me that everything will be fine in a calm, hushed tone. As she douses me with gasoline, she tells me that suffering is a good thing. That it leads to catharsis and inspiration. That to burn is to feel alive. It is the fringe that we desire. Along the border is where our intentions meet decisions. It is one thing to dream of the fringe, but another to recognize its presence. I have never burned before, but I have felt the sensation of decline. I have embraced the cold-hearted despair of inebriation, and I have longed to grab the wings of a catalyst and transform. Combustion, she says, is a two person operation. One needs to act, one needs to react.
I was told alchemy is an art Jessica knows well. When her father left her mother, she found solace in burning things. When her best friend died, she attempted to turn her friend’s ashes into gold. She mixed one part determination, two parts blood, and one part death, and ultimately found success. How it glistened, she tells me.
She strikes a match and sets me ablaze. Flames erupt from my body and the heat consumes me. I close my eyes, trying to shed my skin, my sense of self. Relax, she says. You’re trying to force it. I don’t think she knows how much I want this. To feel this. To be this. I can feel my reduction. Am I floating? Do I have a leg to stand on? Smoke rises and I arrive at the fringe. The end of the road. My organs are wrestling with themselves.
The next moment I’m drenched in cold water. The flames dissipate and Jessica stares at me with a wide smile on her face. You’re so shiny, she says. It’s as if the sun never set.
Daniel Naman resides in Austin, Texas. He is an Associate Poetry Editor at Kallisto Gaia Press, and his work appears in After the Pause, Ginosko Literary Journal, Eunoia Review, and Piker Press.