Two Poems by Caki Wilkinson

Juvenilia

Up front the wasted girl said TURN OFF, Y’ALL,
LET’S GUN IT DOWN THE RUNWAY, AIN’T NO THING,
I’VE DONE IT TONS OF TIMES!
And listen, that
we didn’t listen was the one right thing
about our night, the country airport winking
as we passed, six deep in a borrowed car,
half-spun, with a guy called Nuh-Uh at the wheel.
We never said his real name, he didn’t have
a license, he wore a backpack full of drugs,
and that was all I really knew
about him, just a friend of a friend I spent
a very crummy fall with, years ago
when I was living next to Burt’s Bird Barn,
a chicken farm, the stink so thick it got in
all my sweaters. This was where I landed
after my boyfriend came unglued and drained
his savings at the Country’s Longest Yard Sale,
hauled off a fencing mask, a two-man saw,
a busted Huffy, crates of dusty jars,
and a painting of a Rebel general—
he guessed, based on the cold proud stare alone—
and that’s just the first load. He’d given up
hygiene, he started seeing things in trees,
and there went our big plan to move to Arizona,
which was his plan anyway. I kept surrendering
my uncertainty to more uncertain forces
like an echo caught in louder sound,
though people thought I was a lot of fun,
up for anything and so on. I still slept
in my retainers, my ears were triple-pierced,
it was an in-between time. Parked behind
a counter making lunch till dinner, I tied
my apron tight and gave away too much
food, reeking of grease and my own stale air,
which didn’t stop me from putting the moves
on Nuh-Uh’s buddy T-Bone, real name Travis,
who wore enormous pants and had a kid,
a fake job, a real girlfriend. This was the fall
I started writing poems that rhyme, inventing
characters with more resolve or else
like me but men, and it’s hard to think about
how sad I was, how willing to forget
myself, and my luck, too many stupid nights
like the night that Nuh-Uh drove us, straddling
the yellow line, his whole arm out the window,
reaching to catch the weeds or high beams, something
over and over he kept missing.
He’d tried to kiss me earlier; I turned my face,
though really I was flattered, it didn’t take much.
They found him dead in a hotel room in Nashville
three weeks later. I got stoned
on the way to the visitation, stood in line
and shook his father’s hand, absorbing the scene
like evidence of a crime I helped commit.
Though I’d have the sense to move away by winter,
if not the sense to see how much I wasn’t
fixing, that fall in the damp death-smelling house
I wrote a poem about a woman named Miranda.
Miranda was standing, where else, on a veranda,
discussing the mating habits of mosquitoes.
I used a bunch of scientific terms.
I did the research from my mattress on the floor,
tapping uneven syllables while a cat
that wasn’t meant to come inside eyed
my hand like prey. I was trying my best not to
think of them as signs, the possum in the pond,
frogs mashed against the gravel by my own tires
or one of Burt’s meth-head sons, there were several,
there was always so much traffic. When I woke
to find a chicken carcass on the porch,
wings folded, stiff, just like the rubber type
but dirty white instead of marigold,
it was the sort of correspondence
between life and art you can’t anticipate,
though of course I wasn’t thinking about art.
In the poem, which probably went on too long,
Miranda never left the cramped veranda,
just rattled on in serviceable lines
that didn’t sound like anyone I knew,
but what she said about biology, how little
we can do to change what makes us incomplete—
that was an ending I could reckon with,
it was my bravest work to date.

Testimony

Numbed up from rum and slushies, smoking bowls
in a friend’s friend’s backyard, time’s a minor chord
the night keeps playing. Dude, we need to go,
we say, but don’t. We’re good at being bored

in front of everyone. But cross our hearts,
the worst we ever feel is incomplete,
just texting, checking Tinder, taking shots
for an album called More Pictures of Our Feet.

It’s August, nothing left to talk about
but June, when we were tan, and got along,
instead of laughing at the girl who’s not
our friend or year—just some dumb stumbling pawn

the night keeps playing. Dude, we need to go,
we say, then get the liquor from our trunk.
We can’t remember having so much fun,
though most of us are almost way too drunk,

just texting, checking Tinder, taking shots
of three guys showing off a halter top.
Numbed up from rum and slushies, smoking bowls,
we never wonder should we make them stop

instead of laughing at the girl, who’s not—
who’s passed out, galaxies away by now,
in front of everyone. But cross our hearts,
it makes us sick, or will, admitting how

we can’t remember having so much fun;
that’s just the sort of muddle summer was.
It’s August, nothing left to talk about
but what will happen after nothing does.