Archive, Poems

DEVON WALKER-FIGUEROA King's Valley

The neighbor is eating locusts again,
++++++as if a plague were just another
point of view, sitting out back of his caved
++++++two-story, squinting skyward, a cast
iron in hand, a mouthful of
++++++wings ground to dust. My sister’s
busy too, straddling the fence, getting out
++++++our mom’s gold pumps, spritzing her hair
into a hive of black. She’s making the universal
++++++honk-your-horn sign at truckers who pass
with their loads of skinny firs bound
++++++to cross the Pacific. If they’re lucky they get
a kiss blown over the yellow line, because
++++++they’re only ever traveling
in one direction & that’s away from King’s
++++++Valley, a place known for its dead
settlers & Xmas trees. There’s a whole
++++++cemetery for land-claimers here, where
locals leave antlers & Hot Wheels & red
++++++polyester carnations on the graves
they like best. People with names like Nayhem
++++++& Sarepta, who saw their kids give up
the ghost to ailments nobody can pronounce
++++++anymore, might be happy
to know they’re still missed. The point
++++++of the steeple on the only church for miles
around blew down & no one’s the means or the mind
++++++to fix it. My mother is trying to
be the good hostess
++++++she hopes I’ll one day grow
into, schooling a girl named Mynda
++++++toward the GED we all say
stands for Goodness Ends
++++++in Degrees; showing her the difference
between the progressive & perfect
++++++tenses; how to interpret
the verse “touch me
++++++not, for I have not yet ascended;” the necessity
of opening the day with a sorry for trespasses
++++++unwittingly made. I have a habit of trespassing
to see our neighbor’s sow, the one who gave
++++++birth to thirteen piglets, only
to crush them in her sleep. She’s had so many litters
++++++over the years & they’re all defecating
into the creek now, making us worry our wells
++++++will fail us. I also
have a habit of visiting his cat
++++++Confederate Gray, who licks the air
if you stroke her ribs. My sister asks me to cut
++++++her hair again, & again we drop the locks
in the creek & hope it never stops
++++++moving away from us. It seems we’ll get by
with our lie a little longer, if only
++++++because the nematodes are failing
to save the Yukon Golds & the thistle is
++++++going to seed & Mark, a family
friend who happens to be hard
++++++up, is sleeping on the couch, asking us
to call him Lucky like it’s Desert
++++++Storm all over again. He takes it
upon himself to learn me
++++++vigilance, which is to say, self
defense. He tells me to give
++++++him everything I’ve got,
but I’ve never done that
++++++for anyone, & I don’t think I’m ready
to begin. His forearm finds its way
++++++to my throat & his knee goes right
between my legs. He holds me
++++++to the wall till I admit
I’m licked, which happens quick, but anyway
++++++humiliation’s hardly real
when only John Wayne is watching
++++++from his lacquered saw blade on the wall
& anyway does anybody survive war
++++++without being won
over by the dream of decline? You can find us
++++++on ghosttowns.com, or you can find us
on A&E, re-running our stories
++++++about how haunted this place really is—
women waking up to translucent children
++++++braiding their hair, all those farmhands
who saw Old Man Cosgrove only visible
++++++from the waist up, who tells them
this valley is paradise & no one’s
++++++told him otherwise. There’s a store here
called The Store & it just quit
++++++selling gas because its holding
tanks are pure rust & won’t hold another
++++++drop. Still, you can purchase Dreamsicles
& Bud & homecured
++++++jerky, & Charlotte who runs
the show will skin & quarter your kill for free
++++++if you bale her hay. She says
the locusts are in cahoots with their stinging cousins
++++++who inhabit the dirt & just recently flew
up my shorts & stung me till I stripped
++++++stark, till I climbed a livewired
fence & ran two meadows only
++++++to find out I was amusing
the neighbor’s pigs, who cooled in the mud,
++++++blinking away flies. My father got so pissed
he set the whole nest aflame, only
++++++the fire didn’t stay
where he put it & so a season’s worth
++++++of growth went up in smoke
& the locusts mourned & the scent
++++++of singed Rieslings lingered in my hair
for a whole week. He said it was lightning
++++++had struck, & Mynda wrote a song
in honor of the crop. I remember
only the phrase “portentous
++++++clouds vandalizing blue.” The insects remained
unscathed. I admit I’m proud
++++++of my sister for mastering false
lashes & liquid liner, for painting cat eyes
++++++that’d make Audrey jealous
if she were alive & smoking
++++++as if it weren’t deadly & dancing
with Fred Astaire. There isn’t much to check out
++++++at The Store, but Funny Face is one
option & my sister & I know every
++++++line by heart, every step
& throb of Technicolor. So we watch it again
++++++while Dad feeds the burn barrel yesterday’s
news & the high-gloss catalogues
++++++he doesn’t want us
to be tempted by & the boxes of cereal
++++++that always say, “Better Luck
Next Time” & sometimes it seems
++++++the future has a habit of repeating itself.

Devon Walker-Figueroa, a recent graduate of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, currently lives in New York, where she serves as co-founding editor of Horsethief Books. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry ReviewThe New England ReviewLos Angeles Review of Books QuarterlyNarrative MagazineTin House (The Open Bar), and Copper Nickel.