City of Flood
"This li'l bitch just wants / to let the sun set on her anger."
In his undershirt and umbrella hat and Adidas slides,
Louis on this Thursday morning is graceful and trash,
a pile of spent roman candles. When he open hands my temple,
let bygones be sacrilege. Let them whistle and pop and swell.
Children shuffle out their bus like a caterpillar of bruises.
I watch red-eyed from our window, listen to Louis apologize
for last night. But you don't see us when we're alone.
Mom. You have to get to know him better. I'm the idiot.
I wrecked my bike drunk. Pyrite poured out my knee.
Mom once told me never go to bed angry. To honor her
I ain't slept in a decade. Since Louis and me shacked up,
my brick walls serve me shittier than a scab on an ant.
So I ulcer inside him. I yawn in his liver. I get up the stomach
to boil coffee. When I'm done, I toss the cold grounds on
his hardwood heart, revel in his reflux, its sizzle and spit.
I explain better homes and gardens, how they think
it's fertilizer. He allows me to plant a brilliant lavender around
his pump. I'll season Friday night with his marrow in secret
and wash out grass stains from the backs of his eyes. He'll sing
concrete and shush the whimpers of dumb intrastates. But here
we don't call them intrastates. We squirm and decorate daily
the city trickle. We call them blades, old razors who skin the sky
-line out, gut open clouds for fun and chrissake. They pour.
We call them paintbrushes dripping black. On good days,
lightning is the brightest shade of black. God made gravity,
a hug that always gets its way. Nobody's a cakewalk
to the gravy train whistling towards the love boat into happily ever after.
No crying over spilt rivers, Missy. Learn to appreciate
the miracle of life. No bitching over fountains swole
like blisters in brand new dollar store shoes from walking on
so many miles of water.
I blow a cone of incense to get Louis's gut stinking
like a cathedral. His hymn of fecal cargo on Cahokia
bones is my personal favorite. We toast for noon
to the future! Cheersing cans of Busch on Gravois
is the most he'll love me in public. This is my bait,
punishment quiet, a morsel of invincibility. He turns
to belch. Sloppy, Louis punched a hole in
the drywall last night so he could spackle it shut
tomorrow. My handyman, my miracle worker. He empties
a glock at a funny-looking cloud for throwing shade
over the river. With dog hair on his yeasty cheeks
and chest. In a tank top and cargo shorts, no prob.
The neighbors run in their doubles, pay-as-they-go
phones on their ringing ears. The cold black slide snaps
back like a harmless garter. Once mastered, a weapon is
merely a pet tamed. Hot shells of anti-venom nip
his wrist. The lines of his heart tattoos are blown
out—can barely make out my name. What cheery slaves
we see each day, how lucky for each sparkling chain.
Tonight our bodies will knot tight to the other like sun
lust, a carpenter's bootlace. One you have to take
your teeth to in order to get apart.
My sunflower dress got whistled at, so I get popped.
Here we are again, jackknifing the kiddie pool of love.
I rub purple suns into my copper neck. This summer
bites hard and I worship a feverdream of biting back.
My mom was a big woman. She outgrew her feverish sea.
Whenever I picture her (she died when I was little, then
again, and again), she clutches her box of AJAX, her
corpse scouring the laminate each time with lamb's wool.
I inherited some of her strange traits: When I blink it sounds
like a screen door slammed shut, worse than oceanic racket.
I stare into Louis's lungs—sticky as cotton candy and queasy
as my aunt swigging chlorine water after swimming through
nine high lives. He blatantly gawks at her sunspots. He believes
in John the Baptist. I believe we all have some sort of faith.
I bless myself in a pink innertube and hot pink rayon tubetop.
And tonight the Wizard of Oz is playing short.
We can bathe on the porch as a family, rolling the cold cans
up and down our faces. I can splash KMOX about our ears
and dollop Jack Buck on our sunburns. We're gonna win it
this year, I can feel it. We got home field advantage.
Louis tells me to never put swimmies on the thing
on the mound on my belly. It can learn: swim or die.
Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!
We can drink as if our lives depend on it because they do.
Setting on a broken sofa in our alley, Louis studies
a deer hanging by its haunches from an apartment
third floor window. Its belly airs empty and open
in the middle of the city. We all dress up for Sunday.
Sweating in his olive suit from goodwill, he wishes
the shadows were fatter. A road winds in his hands,
tossing its weight over his lap. He used to pick me
out four leaf clovers from I-64, nooses super pissed
at four missing necks.
This was before his side bitch.
She's a lucky junkie like me. She goes by Miss R
and looks so much like my mom it scares hell
out of me. Her veins are alive with heron and dams
and cattails. I fantasize a long brick cracking open her
bloat and somehow she'll be saved.
Every day is
a holy day. I thank god I didn’t wake up in Buffalo
or Pittsburg and apologize for that one time I forgot
How did Louis lodge himself
in my crown? How does this pity full of river untangle
my dusty hair after a bad river scrimmage?
him, stabbing his rump with a salad fork. I kiss the four
holes single file, like kids waiting for the drinking fountain,
chirping the best question. C'mon! Are you gonna drink
the whole Mississippi? No, just the part that's mine.
This luke water I earned.
I'm wild and free like all
those American songs say. Louis, your sliver is glorified,
a bit of creek choked with silt. His pavement presses
against my neck, soothsaying Shh, it's okay. We're all saints.
You'll go right to canon. I can't stop laughing, even
with a chunk of off-ramp at my throat. I'm ticklish to this
Saint Louis. Yeah fucking right.
I crack myself
up. This is me—hitting the road.
Seriously. I'm dying here.
Henry Goldkamp has lived against the Mississippi his entire life. Recent work appears in Cutbank, Xavier Review, glitterMOB, Permafrost, Notre Dame Review, and DIAGRAM. Last year (2017) his work was nominated for a Pushcart and two Best of the Nets. He is the recipient of the Ryan Chighizola Award for poetry from University of New Orleans, and his Bad Beach manuscript was named a finalist in both Gold Line Press and Yemassee's 2018 chapbook contests. His short story "The Manner of Your Scramble" was awarded the Richard Cortez Day Prize from Humboldt State University. His public art projects have been covered by Time and NPR.