by Emma Binder
from Country Songs for Alice
We’ll wait in the truck stop parking lot for the sky’s
gluey torches to catch. They’ll call you a dyke. They’ll call me
a dirty bitch. They don’t know I’m not even
a girl. They’ve never known the sensitive, angry texture
of your heart. They’ve never seen you coiled
against a bedspread, gold-cheeked
as if held to flame. Poor,
dumb things. No way am I going home over some guy
leaning out his Chevy window who’s never licked dust
off an angel’s palm. He hasn’t even slept
in meadows. He doesn’t know
about the washed knives of light in you. He can’t hear
certain notes, like those slipped by mournful ghosts
into radio static, or the whimpers that dogs make
when they miss home. We’ll padlock our names
to the soot-stained fence around this lot.
We’ll drive into that big-ass neon diner sign
if someone says we can’t be here. We’ll break
its letters into rhinestones of ice. Are you ready?
Get in. Your eyelashes are haloed
in soft dirt and buckwheat. If this is a stage,
you’re the actor who breaks plates,
burns the scenery. They don’t deserve
even to be burned by you.
You lived at your mom’s house for a while, cooped up
in the dark carpeted room where she piled laundry. Green lights
from the garage narrowed into ribbons through the blinds.
We tracked dirt inside to make a more perfect world. We watched
the same movie over and over, listened to the same songs. Weed, whites,
and wine. Sweatshirts, denim, and spit. You cut my hair with a straight
razor left in the bathroom by your shithead dad. In a cloudy jar
on the windowsill, light shone through rubble from the moon. I just
found this on the street, you said, holding up a dirty black boot.
My eagle’s head welded to your hooves. Your mom shouted
through the door: Girls, she called, open up, I need my work clothes.
Small, blonde meadows of hair came ablaze. Every dog
in the neighborhood shivered and skittered to its feet. In the months
ahead, I heard alarms: Love isn’t everything. Can’t keep living
this way. But your voice was milk. That carpeted room
was a furnace in a snowbound country. Little strands
of my black hair clung to your coiled sheets. We’re different,
you said. So we played at mirroring one another. How close
could I get to you? How could the soft-finned animal of your hand
become mine? How many times could we raft through darkness
and survive? The moon rained down in sequins some nights.
When your mom knocked on the door, you put a hand on my mouth
to keep me quiet. The sounds that didn’t leave me spun
into small, silver comets inside my chest.
Alice, you got cool blue stones in the reaches of your fingers.
You can fix the truck. My hat’s full of rain for you. I can count
on you to hop fences, stoke coals, rear the crooked sapling
somebody left in a milk pail. You’re a field
lit by a velvet couch on fire. The way you nurture doesn’t mean
you’re not fierce. You can nurture me, feed me,
and bruise me in a breath. Your blue-gray bruises hide
candlelight and sugar. In the dark,
steam-thickened cab of my truck, your palms glow like half-dollars.
Moonlight rubs against a wick of hair,
then slides into a Styrofoam coffee cup and sits there. You know
what to do. When the guy outside the bar
in Readstown moves like he’ll kill us, you can burn a hole
in his boot with that moonlight. You can
blind him for a fortnight. Cleave sidewalks
with your salt-stained gloves. Birds will fly
backwards, eager to hunt mice and lay them
at your feet. Soft red talon-marks
are proof that they love you, they listen to you, they’re watching
that light as it drips from your hair. They hover
as they wait to see what you’ll do. I’m hovering,
too. In the glovebox there’s railroad
spikes, candy, and crumpled maps. You toss your light
out the window. When the guy outside the bar
raises his fist, it’s like a matchstick lost
to prairie fire. We hardly even see it,
amidst all that flame.