Where I’m From
Grinning and flicking me off,
Gavin left practice and climbed
in the car beside his mom
just as my ex-girlfriend’s new
boyfriend was drunk and doing
90 past the high school.
A small-town constellation.
Seatbelts would have done
nothing, authorities told us.
As if that blunted something.
Amber gave birth just before
the sentencing. The new father
did time in juvie, in time
was set free. At the double
funeral my father preached,
Good Shepherd Lutheran
so full they had to roll a TV
into the nursery for overflow.
Toddlers stacked blocks, zoomed
Hot Wheels. The janitor got
confounded by a cluster of cords—
picture came through, but no
audio. In black and white
I watched my father climb
into the pulpit and silently
say what no one could believe.
We’d lift gin from your mother’s cabinet
and walk the hallways of Robert Asp Middle
taking swigs in plain sight from a 20oz
Pepsi Clear, your gap tooth flashing
at teachers we passed, your hands forgetting
to pass the bottle, screwing and unscrewing
the cap. After that I moved. We lost track.
The news was six months old by the time
I heard. When they don’t say what happened
you know what happened. We used to catch
rides from highschoolers out to the Red to jump
the bridge. Water thick with clay. Red with clay.
We kept close watch for underwater logs.
Smoked Menthols. A 40-foot drop into swirls
of currents. One time you stayed under
and kicked downstream to trick me. Nervous,
I stared at the surface for signs. No signs.
I stumbled down the bank to dive in.
The moment you were certain you had me
the valley cracked with your laughter.
Lay It Bare
I know you’re hungry for it.
More money. More news. Desperate
for any laurel that parades you
as happier than you know
you are. A car. A cruise. Some haircut
reeking so deeply of depression
no one with a nose could miss it.
Making more each year. Spending
more. The pride of how little
time you have to spare. I know
I embarrass you, still living
on expired food I find, dented tuna
I squirrel away, spending at a pace slower
than a pulse. Slow, that’s what
I have. I’m not happy either.
I walk past bars where flush people
drink. Markets where I dumpster
what I eat. Down streets quiet enough
to hush the last ten years. Parks
dark enough to find Gemini, Lyra.
I don’t wish you were poor.
I wish you were here.
We each get food stamps in two states. I’m Iowa and Minnesota. North is Michigan and Minnesota. I have the same name in both states, but for some reason, in Michigan, North is Andrew. Covering my ass, he says. Wiping the paper trail clean. No one’s after your ass, I say. Exactly, he says. They’re after Andrew’s ass.
Before we sell them, we browse Whole Foods for stuff you never find in dumpsters. North grins at me by the caviar. Can you believe this? he says. Us? Shopping? At the checkout counter he enters the wrong pin for the wrong state, has to run the card twice. Back outside I say, Why’d you give the cards different pins? North looks at me like I’m crazy. Because they belong to different people, he says.
We walk past the 19 and Nicollet Diner and on toward the Convention Center, looking for a buyer. I hope Andrew doesn’t get busted, North says. I smile, trying to think of how to lengthen the joke. They’re not after Andrew: he only has foodstamps in Michigan. That’s true, North says, Andrew’s probably safe, but here’s the thing: I’m Andrew. I know you’re Andrew. No, I mean my real name, it’s not North, it’s Andrew. I stop walking. I turn to face him. You’re kidding, I say. Andrew shakes his head.
End of Term
Down on one knee, North hacksaws while I stand lookout, a thick glitter of metal shavings on his arm. Tomorrow, all the bikes left on campus will be impounded. Orange tags hang from crossbars like so many prayer flags, signed and dated by the chief of campus police. This one’s mine, North says. Whatever, I say. He raises the seat for me and I ride it the short distance home while he shops racks for expensive brands.
By the time I jog back he’s found the next three: a Giant and two Cannondales. Forget that last one, he says, this baby’s mine. Fine, I say, but no more switches. Back from my eighth ride home, campus police rolls up on me to ask if I’ve seen anyone suspicious. Suspicious how? The fatter officer leans out the window: Like they don’t belong on campus. I look around us at the empty street. How can you tell who belongs here?
When I find North he’s booking it through a parking lot wheeling bikes on either side of him. No limp. No sign we couldn’t have been swapping jobs. So much for his gout. They’re onto us, he says. He hands off the Surly and in the same motion mounts the Bianchi. This one’s my real one, my Black Stallion. I don’t even look at him. He knows what he’s doing but he’s doing it anyway.
Anders Carlson-Wee is the author of Disease of Kings (W.W. Norton, 2023), The Low Passions (W.W. Norton, 2019), a New York Public Library Book Group Selection, and Dynamite (Bull City Press, 2015), winner of the Frost Place Chapbook Prize. He is represented by Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents and lives in Los Angeles.