Building a Skyline
It looms over me, this figment
of city old as chrome bumpers, like the decrepit
grain elevators and junkyards sketching real town
walls and red clay, roads a spot-on match
with miles of rusted mufflers and dead
metal weaving through countryside ghost towns
more north than I've ever been. I bundle leavings
for extra cash, crush countless dull stories and the cars
that own them, compact histories
into four-by-four slabs, piling them
into makeshift monoliths; still-life skylines
of engines that have not revved in years.
I have twenty-one layers of dirt
in my lungs and rust collects in streaks
of sweat like car parts lining the scrapyard—
hundreds of tire treads tearing clean paths.
I'd look past the last gas can into a sky I can't chew,
but I've taken in clay so long
this scrapped shack owns more of me than the air
of every other place I've never been.
The nearest town is seventeen miles of swept curve
away. After ten minutes on the fly in fifth,
that world's every gate open, a whole city rippling.
Much too fluid for any of my rust-hunks combusting
too fast even for cars. My pulse at that pace,
I could beat like five o'clock on the way out the door.
No distance could pull me back to mufflers.
The bet has always been simple: skip a rock
all the way across that body for nothing
but bragging rights. This simple premise has lured
thousands of stones into the deep
pockets of river basin, and countless
claims have been flung off tongues like faulty throws,
but only one man has ever cinched its middle,
tightened river like a belt with quick arching notches.
He became immortal as leaves
made their way to compost and fire, final proof
that century-old summer had sloughed off its amber
for the dim shades of shale and slate,
of polished rock winging its way through blue. Like everyone else
he kept his life and name, but he's never been more than this
stone throw, this, become something like myth, dangling
along loose lips in a land of full waters,
words traveling at the speed of undertow.
His story is told all the time, the he becomes she occasionally,
the weather changes, but it's always the same.
He is the hurler and the rock, both sides
of the river he stitched with thirty-three skips.
Belief in this throw has carried much more than stone
to whatever depths have held it. That deep has opened
for buttons, washers, handfuls of changed loosed like rain on its face.
They've all known the odds of winging one
across, no matter how slight the chance,
and they've all begged of gravity just one more lunge,
offering the rest of their lives against a rock and the other side of the river.
I should've embraced the snake. I should have
embraced the snake and the snake's branch,
the snake and the snake's tongue. I could've had
it, god-knowledge, the only it that will ever matter really,
on the tip of my tongue: language, star charts.
I could've wound around snake curls and rested,
brain bursting with everything but questions.
Questions. When you say it like that
it almost presumes something answerable, tangible,
some picture half-length here, double there,
a sum arrived at. That's what we're really talking about
—yes, no, squash, date, sun, moth, rock. Data.
I have questions. What rage could you muster,
bones split, skin ripped, body broken, before
he let you die? How could you be so full
of blood that your body spread evenly over
enough dirt to bury three men?
Why does the smell of death send apes reeling
and me searching?
The right questions have no answers. They don't
show me the position you died in, arms tucked
crosswise under legs, they don't give me the bark scrap
that spoke of blood eight to nine hours old
when I found you, they don't use the word murder,
and they don't leave me so empty I can sleep at night.
The right questions beat me over and over with the simple truth
that I will never stop watching you die,
and I cannot ever stop wanting to.
The Return of Lazarus
With desperate words and a wrist-flick
from the hand of some lonely stranger, I've returned,
someone who's seen earth sink and helped
to sink it, mask of man wrapped
two loosely in white, a shadow strapped
at the foot of a body that cannot rest.
Flesh given way to fabric, blood
just remembrance, here, now, I walk
back to rock, my rock. The flat
slab and all the dirt in it, the bowled
slope of stone that could've curved me
into earth given the pressure and the time.
Yes, I was flesh and I was blood.
Before the smell of me was the smell of earth,
before the murmurs of crickets and the silences of worms
were the murmurs and the silences of me,
and before the echoes of every death
leaned against me like willows.
But for you, I should've been coagulate,
bandage, cotton and clot entirely. I should've been left
to hollow like bone, to be a carbon shard
as forgettable as everyone who only dies once,
and I would've, too, like sound flattening
I would've stopped, dissolved, and vanished.
Imagine hush. Desertion. The utterance only
of disparate whispers through bundled oak
split-stacked near nightsnow.
This certain still, this attention granted
dew seeping each harvest clean of soil,
never-ending, its barely borne drop,
it's stumbling hurl towards anything like grace,
the sound of oceans drying,
all of it, slipped in this solitary
second stuck between silence, this pinned point
of even air's centerpiece.
This had been my resonance.
So do not make of me what you will,
I am not your epic. I didn't empty
out in great crimson pools, fires didn't leap
from my eyes when you closed them,
bandaging them twice just in case,
and I didn't die for you.
I ended, as you will end, and you can have that,
but this beginning is mine.
Philip Sueper is a procreator by choice, and a writer by profession. He's been excelling at both since college, and he now has four children and a fun gig as a simulation designer for interactive training courseware. Words have always been and will continue to be Phil's method of choice for expressing his world to others. He's been published here and there, won a contest or two, and has a receding hairline. He's vain, honest, and loyal, even more so when he's drunk. He'd only lay down his life for his wife or his children, but he'd lay down a limb or two for his best friends.