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Kevin Clark

As Ever


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?

But promising

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—

Hardball Apocalypse

–1979


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?

—Hell

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?

What gives?

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

peroxide.

—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.





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