The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Michael Lee Phillips

Climate Change in Martins Ferry, Ohio

                                    Weather Update for James Wright

 

Nowhere near the Shreve High football stadium
I think, nonetheless, of autumn.
How it begins now without Polacks or Negroes,
Or ruptured night watchmen, or the steel they made—
Or their dreams.


How all the absent fathers are too frightened to go home.
Where their women bare their fangs,
And strike.


Yet,
Their sons continue to act out
At the start of each season,
Competing in rituals of mutual concussing.

 

 

Michael Lee Phillips

Guys

 

A candy apple red ’57 Chevy, polished chrome mags,
Tijuana tuck and roll upholstery, bored out 327 cu. in.
Short block, and a four-speed Hurst shifter on the floor.
Pulled over on the shoulder of I-40 somewhere
Just east of Barstow with two blown connecting rods
And a blown piston. It’s late and no moon anywhere
To shine down on the crazy steam that keeps
Flashing out from under a hood too hot to open.
This is fucked, one guy says right before another semi
Rumbles past all lit up like Christmas on wheels
With a madman pumped on bennies hitting his horn
For no reason except the hour and a warm voice
On his CB saying she’ll be at that truck stop outside
Of Kingman. Totally fucked, the guy says into the deaf
Wind as they huddle up, cheap hoodies stolen from a Dollar
Store in Mojave whipping the faces that are way too young
For this shit. I’m about froze, one guy says. This is
The moment that will separate time, that will disappear
In the stories told of their lives. There’s a young woman
Somewhere who’s been waiting all night for one of the guys.
The curtains in the room where the young woman waits
Have worn so thin that the neon outside her window
Flashes “Orders to Go” onto her milky back whenever
She gets up to go pee. Three guys. Standing too close
To the future to understand what it means. Not
In silence, though, for their lives permit no silence, silence
Being the sum of what they fear right before it all
Goes to hell. No fucking way, one guy keeps saying,
You believe this shit? It’s late spring, 1970, two months
Into the strike, and one guy presses his palm to the hood
And tells the other two something they already figured—
They ain’t making Needles in time for those jobs, so
Forget about it. Don’t ask these guys what their sign is.
Their sign is on cards stuffed in their wallets: International

Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 35, out of Trona,
Paid up for the duration. There’s warrants for two of you
Going door to door back in town, multiple assaults with
Wrist rockets on properties listed and persons named.
Three guys. You live your life with guys, do everything
Worth doing with guys until one day one of the guys
Becomes the guy, the one who sticks with something
Nobody even knows about, stays with it until the end
And gets away: the guy. If there were three guys, which
One of them was you? There’s proof you weren’t the one
Who died with a liver the size of a walnut and egg yolks
For eyes. You didn’t own the ’57 Chevy. But you would
See it sometimes when you were back in town, up on blocks
Behind the chain link fence, the mags gone, candy apple
Blasted by decades of wind into a color like rust. And
Sometimes the owner was there too. Hunched forward
In a lawn chair under the awning of his single wide
Mobile home, hands gripping each other like they just
Met, jaw dropped open nearly to his chest, a woman’s
Face in the window checking to see he’s ok. He recognized
You once, years ago, and his middle finger rose up like a flag.

 

 

 

MICHAEL LEE PHILLIPS was born in Trona, California, a small chemical mining town a few miles west of Death Valley. He is a graduate of Fresno State. At various times he has worked as a laborer,  newspaper reporter, photographer, technical writer, union negotiator, and teacher. Post grad highlights include studying at Trinity College, Dublin, Yeats’ Summer School in Sligo, and St. Johns in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He lives in Ridgecrest, California.

 

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