Landscape With Parasites
I waited in my apartment on the hill for my landlord’s hand to bang up and down the other side of the wall.
It was as if I were falling
with the way my body could fold into itself, the way
my limbs twitched like a small American flag in the wind.
I was young at this point, adjusting the water’s temperature in
In the other room, my friend’s child was screaming. At 19, nothing seemed permanent.
I found the perfect temperature
and swilled a beer while my body got clean
then crammed into a Civic. The night loved to swallow me like the humming pill that rendered the morning leisurely
in its metastasizing throb.
I waited and waited; the hospital drained.
In my brain, a tiny bomb.
In my hand, a seizure I brought to my face
when I remembered
the nights I didn’t sleep. I spat
blood into the sink and told John to go in further—
he pushed the sewing needle through my lower lip
into the apple slice on the other side.
We spent the night
tipping our heads back and dying,
our limbs a mess of pleasure in the twittering crowd.
But that was Omaha. The city ripped open its stitches
until the streetlights glowed like the brain’s malignant parts
in an MRI. The city, my city, is a type of graveyard. Crack it
see the bodies twitch like parasites that destroy as much
as they clean, like carbon dioxide tearing through liquid.
Then the insects turn electricity to dust in the living
transistors of their thoraces.
The night coming on. The building’s warm darkness
pushes the neighborhood into the street, where we are
bodies watching in silence
the sun slip back into the earth like a reverse metamorphosis.
The sun, itself an eye, an entire head
stuffed in a cloth bag—the horizon a rope pulled taut
at the neck. What a sunset, a person on the porch says,
waving his arms around the contours
of pink and orange so the neighbors
will see. I have never seen such a sunset. The sky, like a white wall
stained with Kool-Aid. The man’s
redeyes almost pearled at this point of twilight.
In the street beneath canvas straps of streetlight, the bodies
flick their ashes, toss their butts
like glowing pills
into a wide throat. How the dark wavers
as we strain to see the bodies within it,
to find a silhouette
of someone we love, a form to match
our own. Something
must crawl out of the night’s shell. We ask for witness,
the clicks of exoskeleton splitting from exoskeleton,
the petrified body it leaves clinging to our window screens.
The cicadas all gone under ground. Their electric bodies
wind down, lose their shimmer, die.
Do you see? Do you see? I have
never seen a night like this, the man on the porch says; his
neighbors gone to their apartments, their windows glowing
like little angry screens.
We put our palms to the ground and feel the hum
of each tiny alternator churning legs into wings,
the magnetic whir of the sun
fighting to tear the bag from its head.
The neighbors do not watch us move from here to here,
do not see our fingers snapping
the night’s emptied husk.
Brian Clifton co-edits Bear Review. His work can be found in: Bennington Review, Prairie Schooner, Guernica, Barrow Street, Pleiades, and other such magazines.