No matter where I’d be, you found a way in.
I dropped a tab as I drove, then waited
for the last scrim to fall away, the freefall
sky in twilit purples. By the time I pulled
into the back lot of The Drinkery Inn, wordless
conjecture readied itself on the neural edge.
First, you played it quiet as an empty bottle.
My father dead two decades, he’d have thought me
nuts, risking my last atoms of sense on acid
laced with strychnine to blare the colors.
Was this the road to wisdom beyond the brink—
or the spendthrift’s atomizing of time?
Then, you cautioned against caution, declared
we’re all born with a gyro itching toward tilt.
I leaned, then leapt
headlong. The door opened
to a sea of spectral cries, each laugh the color
of a throat. Across the room, Heckles and Walsh
waived me over, poured a long blonde bible
into steins. Were you my hold on the handle,
the lift of my arm? I drained mine quick before
Ralph coaxed me out back to drag his weed.
I’d have loved to speak as if I’d had any idea
worth the rising moment, but my sight flared
into a spun kaleidoscope, loud laughs
as compass drawing me back toward the guys
when I cut right for the head. Up there
over the urinal the compass whirled
as handless clock, timeless divulger
of the next clue spoken in ur-lingo. Done
or not, I shook and zipped, then looked up:
In a trip’s instant,
a face smiled back at me.
Had you always been there, sirenic green light
goading Now! before each choice was a Go?
A promise in the temporal lobe?
what? I asked the mirror as if it thought
my query genuine, but my face made it clear
I had to get home. I tried to translate
your last message to my wife before sleep.
The ground beneath us only seems solid,
you answered for her, and you again hissing
low, how every hunch is a happy accident.
We all know there’s nothing of consequence
in the rearview, you rasped in a whisper
of practiced indifference. There’s no clock,
you said, and the moon doesn’t talk. Please
eat your pillow, it’s so good, you smiled.
Once more, I said, as ever, you can leave now—
When I was here, I wanted to be there.
–Captain Willard, Apocalypse Now
Can you picture what will be?
–"This Is the End,” The Doors
Stems and seeds slow-cooked in butter,
brownies moist as sponge cake sugared
with ash, we’d taken as much as we could,
ever ascendant, knowing better than the coleus
and spider plants hanging from gold hooks
in the apartment how we’d cross over
into the kind of edgeless dimensionality
our dreams aspire to, a vanguard belief
that required more inner magnitude
than we had, so in fear and panic I leapt
from the bed. Did I have the heart to swear
off dope next morning, the white
crosses, the mushrooms, the Blink
of acid on the little pink tabs?
if an infinite cobra hadn’t aerosoled
through the screen window to the foot
of my mattress, its split-tongue growling
for years that night before I ground large
stone breaths of fear into grains
of riven sleep, an old girlfriend insensate
under the anvil of quaaludes she downed
to kill the bad buzz. For a year I fled
in full pursuit of the kind of lasting
dreamlessness we mistook for safety
in those days, all that blank dark so much
better than the venomous untethering
of our minds, until a hand shoved lemon tea
at me, and Ralph’s face insisted we cross
to the city, saying Fuck. The. Nightmares.
Fuck. The. Violence. You of all people know:
Art is its own reason. Why won’t you
see this film?
—And how to answer
but climb down into the tin armor
of my gutting-through till we shuffled out
under the marquee, concentric rows
of white and red bulbs in their manic circuit,
“This Is the End” stalking us streetward
when the hard dystopian light of afternoon
peeled off a white F-150, its custom foil
jacked high as a memory flagging me
from the deep.
At the famed fern bar
on Franklin, I pressed my inner eyes
at Ralph, heard myself telling him
about the portal some guys bore through,
as if there’s gold or God on the other side,
just think about Kurtz or Ahab, what
they’d been after, how the needle-tip
of their neuro-axes lost plumb, I begged,
how they’d no choice but to reverse poles.
Ralph resisted my theory, asked why
I’m always hiding myself from the reveal?
Listen, I tell him, I can’t
even brake the story of my cousin Blink
who thought he’d found his way to blissing
into a quantum sub-field, the hideaway respite
of his paradisal needs, his ex-wife long into
the jet stream, the old X-15 engine he snuck
out of Holloman AFB in his quicksilver
pickup Hardball, then in the sparklight
of the old warehouse fused to the bed
of the pickup, his big slicks soldered
to wheels greased by proprietary SynLube,
illimitable horses primed with high-test
—And by God, I’m clamping
Ralph’s heart with each sentence, how
Blink headed out to the edge of the valley
on 70 that blue-blare day, gas pedal melting
on the floorboard, the GMC all gained-out
at 95, when he hit the jerried-switch as if
it was an oxy boost, how just then
his lungs sucked past breathless, his neck
near shred, cheeks caved, eyeballs caged,
the back of his head slabbed hard against
the headrest at 3Gs. This is the end,
beautiful friend, I said to the holograph
Ralph had become. Rubber stops where
the tires ascend. They’re still harvesting
slivers of Hardball off Sierra Blanca,
Blink a rumor in the jet stream. The story’s
too filled with mine
—that’s why, Ralph.
I’m like Blink, seconds before he marries
the peak. Don’t you hear Hardball call
from the air grave? Listen, velocity loves
terminus. It’s every day, my foot’s pushing
every pedal to the floor. It’s not to die,
but the moment before. Ralph nodded
the waiter to the table, took the check,
left cash, said, Let’s go, his mum face
off an ancient gallery. As we crossed
the Bridge, I tried to stare ahead while
the bay leapt up for us at terminal velocity—
Kevin Clark’s third volume of poems,The Consecrations, is published by Stephen F. Austin University Press. His second book, Self-Portrait with Expletives, won the Pleiades Press prize. His first collection, In the Evening of No Warning, earned a grant from the Academy of American Poets. His poetry appears in The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Gulf Coast, and Crazyhorse. A former critic for The Georgia Review, he’s published essays in The Southern Review, Papers on Language and Literature, and Contemporary Literary Criticism. He teaches at the Rainier Writing Workshop. His website is: http://kevinclarkpoetry.com.