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Poetry by Lucas Zhou

Complacency’s in the glove box of the 1959 Chevrolet Impala parked in the deep end of Nabokov’s swimming pool

Tell me how we managed–in the backgame electric lights and swarm of pleather cigarette bums fuming up beneath the stands—to bust out the ignition column and fumble together the goldilocks—ground and clutch—with nothing but the tearout of the innards of the EZ-Bake oven from your Home-Ec textbook. Tell me how to cluck your tongue, jam the snapped heel of a Sears Roebuck pump against the spring-locking latch of the convertible top to bring it crashing down. Tell me how you managed to do away with it all, that suitcase crammed with shotgunned shampoo bottles and K-Mart comforter sets printed with a repeating circuit of Van Gough’s Sunflowers that your mother struck the heel of your jaw with—that strip of abraded skin beneath the dip in the shoulder where it wasn’t the party dress’s straps but rather the snuff-skinned fingernails of a paper bachelor sucker punching the crack shot at the state fair to snag the grand prize…injection molded choker necklace with an one-size fits all clasp, cinching down until the sprues collapsed and dug into flesh. In San Bernardino we tried to burn it—stuffing cotton balls matted flat with the last droplets of that miniature bottle of bourbon and setting it ablaze with the filament of a General Electric bulb, watching as the flames lapped the printed cadmium petals, the faux enamel of the washbasin–stunted in the muggy heat. We painted transistorized wings along our collarbones, dipping our pinkie, then our index in the slag, stopping where the hard gradients trailed off into a peninsula and V-dip began, one long ultraviolet vein. Tell me how we managed to twist, backpedal, bent free of their insoluble admonishments, their feeble attempts at the door chain and chokehold knob when room service swung around with the bill for French toast and a prybar, trying to brute it free as you tail dragged, sparked the concrete guardrail, diluted air conditioned—color chromatic television neon molting back onto your bruised knuckles, my throat, enjambed by the gust and the strobing signs—merge, merge, merge—of the interstate. Talk ceased, then, our throats seamed, folded by the heatinto corkscrews. Atop the roundabout at Griffith Park, where the observatory fractured and rippled with the elms, the splotched shapes of couples gripping waistbands between the rose bushes—the low stucco walls we laid, submitting to a prescribed scoliosis atop the tailfins, watching I-5 and the bloated corpse of the Pacific Electric quiver, slick amber and ruby—evaporating, like the base of an glass flask, smoky and doled out behind nightclubs and cheap motels. I was scared that it would fizzle out, turn into vague synapses posed like an bedspread master’s dissertation when we loaded the trunk with all glass Pacifico and dry ice and bungeed jerry cans of leaded Phillips 66, hitching off the last breakaway ramp to the border—toing that almost kruschevian augmentation of razor wire treated by howling, dynamo propelled searchlights sweeping over lines of clutched Volkswagens being eviscerated by bloodhounds, bloodless pot helmets hopped on codeine. Show me how to circumnavigate the crush—to stagger, whirl, on sandals as drinker and Snow White sparkles of flesh surged, retracted like an fisted accordion, canvas and mirrored light and over smothered makeup trying to bat away my palm from your capsizing shoulders. Show how to sail skirt open, as the copper jacket meridian got smothered in braillike sandstone turrets, peering through a halved rearview mirror at the unfurling strips of harvest gold satin merging leaden with the horizon. Show me how to filet, debone the pages of a Rand McNally road atlas, scratching a pinkie—first the straightened curvature of the Gulf—an cuff linked Fort Lauderdale, a benzo-coastline Mobile, Alabama—and then the Continental Divide, seismic welts rising up with the flash-welded jeeps and magazine, scotch laden semi trucks shooting downhill, fattened smears of incandescent amber, aluminum, red—Montgomery Ward, Winco, Dairy Queens flaring against Burma Shave: air conditioner off, check radiator coolant, grade twenty-percent, thirty, forty, stonework and gradient pressing into the shocks, our bodies. Show me how to cross myself—dip my middle finger to your lips, calcified by dew and liquid bromine and hops and watch as the droplets trailed into the wrinkles, pursed and parted back into flumes that converged, tied off into ductwork, touching but not interlaced. When will they join, meld together? We feed, glut ourselves on the question, that singular stumbling block of tungsten settled, a fist knocking about, the seeded curve of a teaspoon, incense, cupped. But never making contact, when we mount the roundabout, cysts of intravenous turf and pavement and perforated, preshaken concrete and reflectance waxing translucent behind the rim of the windshield, the plasticine groves of some duplex beyond—television tubes peering, pricking your outstretched face. Who has time for love when Fred Rogers glowers, lockjawed, from behind a kitchen timer, the plumbed Guevara? Just yesterday we watched a passenger train derail, self-immolate itself on television, and you jerked your knee, reached for the pull tab of another Budweiser when the bodies were dragged out—a party of folklorico dancers–the neon dye of their polyester dresses etched, an molten syrup, into their thighs. I want to erase them. I want to overlay them. I want to add more, more rouge, shadow to trace, officiate your cheeks. What you called an act of vanity the telecasters called it controlled subtraction, but when we bucked, plunged, our midsections, chlorinated and bruised and liquified, hopped up on sunblock and liquid courage–it became an atoll, blackened by hydrogen fission, how electrons in a vacuum can shoot off an steel and copper target of coils and order themselves into an images, a skirted seam line or an a semantic changed in the way a hand cycled through the transcontinental ballpoint in an breast pocket.

Lucas Zhou

Twitter: @lzhoudidion

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