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Poetry by Dave K.

don’t waste flares

tower #1

RST rating 1-2-2

i crack open a flare
red light splashes across the sand
nothing out here but sand
and static
we could build another ten feet of antenna
on that tower and we might and it won’t matter
the sky looks like static
black with fat white stars
dumb as glass

muffled cursing inside the truck
Monroe thumps the console with the
bottom of his fist trying to get something
besides static
the laughter of air no one can breathe
he joins me outside rubbing his hand
against his hip

it must be sore
his hand i mean

why’d you light a flare he asks
thought Benny would need it i say
does he
i cup my hand around my mouth
hey Benny you need a light up there
the echo spreads in all directions
nope comes Benny’s voice from
somewhere up the tower
i’m fine up here

Benny’s scowl stings my neck
stop wasting those he says slapping the flare
out of my hand we don’t have many left
he coughs into his slapping hand

i could give a shit what Benny wants
i got tired of sitting outside in the dark
now i’m coughing and it doesn’t stop
when i taste blood
the flare rolls off under the truck taking
most of the light with it so my
hands and knees sink into cold sand that
could be crushed glass for the cuts
it leaves behind
the truck’s undercarriage makes
occult shadows that disappear
when i take the light away

i spit red in the light and can’t even see it

tower #2

RST rating 2-1-2

Benny’s on his way down
i light the rest of his way
because he does need flares
from time to time
antenna’s bent east now he says
maybe we’ll find
something out that way
he knows we won’t and
so do i and Monroe most of all

tower #3

RST rating 0, antenna broken

there’s a beauty to be found in
how cold it is out here
when the air is calm
it never lasts but beauty never does

tower #4

RST rating 1-1-2

the wind picks back up and drives us
into the truck
can’t be good for the antenna
or our lungs
i share the truck bed with the receiver box
heavy and sharp edges like a coffin
Benny coughs all night and i know
it’s him his have a whine at the end

tower #5

RST rating 2-3-1

peaks in the static here not
just a flat signal

i have a picture of me and my
sister from her eighth birthday
we’re posed on the fire escape
next to mom’s potted plants
i look at it whenever i have to
climb a tower especially one
this wind-warped

Monroe coughs over my shoulder
and asks who is that on his way
to the truck
my sister i tell him
throw it away he says
no i shove it into my pocket
i don’t want to forget what
she looks like
yes you do he says
trust me it’ll be easier
he slams the driver side
door and i swear to god
the echo lasted a full minute

tower #6

RST rating 2 straight

Benny’s rash looks like mine
and Monroe’s but worse
he was putting that gel on
and you’d think he’d been
shot with a sand gun

it spreads from the chest

i can hear Monroe coughing
up the tower crudding up
the equipment
a different kind of static
churning up from his lungs
and Benny’s
and mine
but not as much

tower #7

RST rating 0, tower collapse

Benny and i spread a tarp
over the back windshield
and another tarp over the
smashed-in side window
and Monroe would have
told us to check the
controls first to see if
it was worth the effort and
you know what
he’d have been right because
they’re full of sand

do you need any light i shout up
to Monroe but he’s coughing too
loud to hear me
i think he’s okay up there i tell Benny
who is real good at smiling and rolling
his eyes at the same time

my rash rubs up against the rough
lining of my coat and it hurts
sometimes it bursts
sometimes my lungs feel like
rock candy and that’s why i
don’t climb as many towers

Monroe shouts try it now and we
make a big show of it and tell him
there’s no signal and he goes quiet
except for coughing and yells
try it again

yelling hurts so bad
sand crackles in the seams
around the truck radio’s volume
and gain and signal knobs
Benny tells me it sounds like
it’s laughing at us don’t it
and i say it definitely is

Monroe comes down after that
and the front of his coat is bright red
where it wasn’t before and catches us
swabbing sand out of the controls and
all he can say to us is you assholes

tower #8

RST rating 2-1-1

when i was little i loaded
bird seed into my bb gun
and shot my sister
in the leg

tower #9

RST rating 2-3-2

static’s heavier denser than before
like something’s walking through it

Monroe is second-to-last
to sleep and i’m last because
he’s a mouth-breather
and it sounds like someone
shaking nails in a tin can

i light a precious flare and
follow the truck’s tire prints
until the sand swallows them
up then follow them back

the flarelight is gentle blue
and turns my blood lavender
as i cough it up

tower #10

RST rating 3-3-4

there’s a whisper of a signal
and noises pushing through
the static when the tower
antenna points north east

either heavy feet on sand
or something chewing
and snorting

i raise my hand to high-five
Monroe but he declines after
i finish coughing into it

Benny hands me a flask
burn some of that shit out
of your lungs he says
i don’t know if it worked
but it tasted awful so I
hope it did

Monroe fiddles with the gain
and volume knobs and asks
is that a voice i can’t tell
it is i say but the gain is too
high and the signal’s fraying
i can’t hear what they’re saying
one minute it sounds like someone
reading the alphabet the next it’s
someone trying to remember the
name of a song by reciting parts of
the chorus

anyway the wind picked up and
we lost the signal and when it
died down my fever picked up
and i spent the night pouring
sweat from my brain boiling
in my head

tower #11

RST rating 1-1-2

last time the fever broke the
pressure blocked up my ears
couldn’t hear shit for a day
or two which is not ideal for
my life out here you know

my heart and brain
pulse out of rhythm
sweat collects in the
holes in my face both
natural and man made

in the morning i dig a nugget
of sweat and sand fine as talcum
powder out of my ear
Monroe winces at the sight of it
i think it’s beautiful
cold and eggshell white
on the end of my finger
the fever haze ghost vision gives
it a soft focus halo
it never lasts but beauty never does

Benny gives me a thermos lid of coffee
with a treat from that flask
he’s breathing hard
blood crusts the corners of his mouth

tower #12

RST rating 0, tower rusted out

Benny dabs at his bloody leg
with a cotton square soaked
in grain alcohol and i sit with
him while Monroe bashes
the tower with a crowbar

do you have any pictures from
home or anything i ask him
nah he says not anymore

but you used to

sure he says but Monroe
said to get rid of them and
after a while i did
he pulls his pant leg down
have you seen my flask

check the truck i tell him

my pocket feels like there’s
a rock in it

tower #13

RST rating 2 straight

more odd sounds rising from
the static heavy footfalls grunts
a dull roar

we’re not supposed to hold
flares in our teeth especially
when we’re up a tower but
i only have two hands and
really what is life without risk

this flarelight turns the sand
into dirty aquarium water
and i can see the truck’s tire
prints and Benny pissing with
his back to me

i bend the antenna in random directions
hoping Monroe tells me we have a signal
or we don’t it doesn’t matter just get me
off this thing and somewhere with sand
under my boots

then again i’d love to climb one of these
things in daylight just to see if i could see
any of the other towers we’ve found

Benny i call out how far away is
that last tower from this one
man don’t watch me piss
Benny says we haven’t been
out here that long

tower #14

RST rating 0 — tower out of operation

sweat pellets across my forehead
behind my ears courtesy of a fever
reminds me i haven’t eaten in a while
my fever reminds me why i haven’t
twenty minutes later puking up
dehydrated steak and peas in
flarelight that looks like stained glass

a good fever smears light across the eyes
and slows the mind my arms and legs
move on a delay and leave tracers in
my vision my rash stings where i’m
sweating into it it’ll be bigger tomorrow
not as big as Benny’s i can see his creeping
onto his hand from under his sleeve

this tower blew over ages ago
bits of it jut out from the sand
Monroe kicks at it and coughs
and coughs and coughs and coughs
and coughs and coughs and coughs
and coughs and coughs

tower #15

RST rating 0 — tower out of operation

another one of these
some luck we’re having
i say to Monroe trying to
ignore how bloody his mouth
smells close up

yeah no shit he says we’re
far enough out that we’re
finding what was built before
they got good at it

should we turn back i ask

Monroe can’t laugh without coughing
instead stirs the dehydrated
chicken and peas in his mess bowl
you don’t get it do you he says
we’re not out here to test radio towers

then what have we been doing out here i ask

dying Monroe says outside the city

but they trained us i say

they were training themselves to
think they were doing us a favor
Monroe says right Benny

Benny doesn’t say anything
he’s poking at the thick sour
ichor splattered all over this
tower laying on its side
he’s out of the flarelight
thinking we can’t see the
rash creeping up his neck
but we already have

mine spreads every time
i sweat so all the time

tower #16

RST rating 0 — tower out of operation

we have to go back i tell Benny
Monroe won’t listen but we’re
getting sicker out here we
need to get back to our
treatments

do you really not get it
Benny asks they’ll find
Venus’ arms before
they let us back in

he takes a long pull from
his flask and hands it to
me and i take a sip and
he pats me on the shoulder

whatever he’s drinking threw
more logs on the fever i hope
i don’t start giving off sparks
when i cough which is all the
time now

tower #17

RST rating 1-2-2

my sister lived alone in a
small apartment above the
municipal basic income office
and all of her bookshelves were
full of plants her windowsills plants
the fire escape outside her kitchen
plants the magazine rack next to the
toilet plants big leafy bastards
long vines blooming whenever
they felt like it

Monroe pokes his boot at a puddle
of that ichor that smells like farts
and says i think it’s mold
can sand even get moldy

i try to answer but my mouth
is on a fever delay and who knows
when i’ll actually respond an hour
two hours a week from now
who cares

i asked my sister about the plants
and she said the happiest i’ve ever
been is here surrounded by things
i grew and nothing else

i wonder what she’s doing now

tower #18

RST rating 0 — tower out of operation

the tower is dissolving in streaks of
ichor whose fumes bend the light
a large bubble not unlike the kind of
rash blister i’ve become very familiar
with inflates and bursts

snot trickles from my nose or
maybe my brain is finally melting
from the fever

we all cough
this was a waste
we are wasting away

tower #19

RST rating NA — no test performed

there’s a body here wearing clothes
just like ours could have been
dumped out of a truck just like ours

he has a rash just like ours
rotting slower than the skin
under it i bet carrion birds
won’t touch it there’s
a small relief

Monroe finds a copy of
Antenna Towers for Radio Amateurs
and a picture in the guy’s jacket of
two children in a grassy lot with their
parents and he says this is why you
don’t keep photos and coughs
and we join him

later we find tools stuck to hard sand
by sour-smelling ichor that squirms when
exposed to flarelight

tower #20

RST rating NA — no test performed

the tower is spattered with ichor
but still standing and there’s a speck
of green light up there and who knows
what that means

Monroe is coughing and Benny is
gelling his rash and i’m doing both
of those things too but not as much
so i climb up the tower over the course
of what feels like a hundred years

the artifice of time undone by heat
and sweat and cold and cough
how long have i been up here
have i ever been anywhere else

Monroe and Benny might be dead
by now wasted away for other sick
people to find

ichor seeps through my glove as i stare at
this battery-powered contraption attached
to the antenna and then out into the darkness
only enough starlight for the dunes rolling like water

is that something moving out there

is that something moving out there
i yell and it hurts to yell

you’ve got the flares dumbass
Monroe’s voice rough and leathery you tell us

i light one and throw it and
can’t see where it lands until
it splashes amber light on
huge loping figures walking
in unison until they reach the
light and recoil

holy shit i hear from down
below then the sound of
the truck doors slamming

there must be dozens of
them and they must be
twenty feet tall apiece
they walk through the
light and squirm and then
they’re gone like they were
never even there

they’re heading west
back the way we came

one of them lets out a dull
roar and stamps out the flare
a sour smell drifts up to meet
me at the top of the tower

they could pluck me off this
tower like a grape but they don’t
maybe they aren’t real just
a projection of this fever
and maybe there’s no ground
under this tower maybe i’ve been
up here so long that the earth broke
open and me and the truck and my
sister’s plants are riding a solar
wind into nothing

a beautiful thought
it doesn’t last but beauty never does

Dave K

IG: @davekisdavek

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