Ephraim Scott Sommers

In Which I Throw a Soda at a Rich Fuck from Charleston and Miss

Goddamn this dude
in a plum suit
and the two doors
of his white Lamborghini
pried wide open, this dude
sashaying across the pavement
in cottonmouth boots,
this dude parked
so far from the gas pump
and hogging two motherfucking
spaces. Goddamn
his speakers flooding the station
with Taylor Swift
who slimes and shimmies
around our ankles
like some shitty-pop sea monster,
like capitalism.
Fuck computers
and saxophones,
fuck our boss
at the Beer Exchange burger restaurant,
but fuck this afternoon most
of all because, Goddamn,
if this afternoon’s miracle
isn’t driven by the same dude
at five o’clock on a Friday
who’s already arrived
at the place we’ve all been
trying to get to, this destination
of easy joyfulness,
this same Goddamn dude
who has parked
his big white myth
by the pumps not for gas,
but so he could squeegee away
a pinky’s worth of dust
from his side window
and disappear
like a paycheck,
like a weekend dream,
like a gallon of gasoline,
and, Goddamn,
how in the presence of such joy
we cannot seem
to wrap our arms
around and keep,
we must stand
in the background and be ignored
because we who were so young
have grown
so middle-classed,
so shitty-bearded and bitchy,
because we who wanted
stinky riches and missed,
must go on soaking
in the pissy aftermath
of never having gotten
because we are the prideful
and petty who hate any Jesus
we cannot be,
and, Goddamn, if, today, we don’t hate ourselves
all the worse
because, still, despite the motor oil
and bacon slime
like manifestos
all over our elbows,
still, all we want is to be
this rich fuck
in his plum suit,
galloping his white whale
down West K.L. Avenue,
his golden hand out the window,
walking like a god over the waves.



My Father Sings a Gun Song in 1994

With a voice like ninety-nine dump truck engines
at idle, like a leather fedora,
like a tie-dyed Josey Wales t-shirt,
so deep like diesel, my father sings
from under his white guitar strap
with two fake
and bloodied bullet holes
bored through the place
where his diabetic heart is,
the same heart
that will attack him
on Christmas Day of 2010,
the same attack he will survive
and quit drinking for,
but this is 1994 on stage at the Paso Robles Vets’ Hall,
and my father is singing
about Sergeant Freeman, yes,
the same Sergeant Freeman
who in 1971 in my father’s song
is kneeling beside the grandfather clock
in his kitchen, mesmerizing
his pregnant wife
with how to load two bullets
into his snub nose six-shot.
In the song, my father
won’t tell us why
they never fully load
the weapon, why he won’t
sing about serving
with Sergeant Freeman at Fort Bragg.
Instead, my father sings
about how, after loading,
the sergeant and his pregnant wife
unload the cold and unspent shells,
how the sergeant
behind her steadies
his wife’s unloaded aim on the front door,
the cock and the fire, the unloaded gun
like a grenade in her hands, yes,
but also like a swelling bicep,
also turning her face
the color of corvettes
and cherry margaritas,
the rush of it, the end of life
held there, the cock
and the fake fire, the click
the click the click the click
toward the front door,
the more and more,
and the imagined intruder
of dreams, and the non-shots
at the calm front door,
and the non-calm shooter,
and why they tuck
the snub nose into the kitchen
drawer after only reloading
with two bullets is the second verse
my father sings. Can you imagine
the sergeant that night,
one hand on the gun,
one hand on the unborn child,
two bullets, teaching his wife
to breathe, and all of this
life piled on top of him,
and all of those next mornings
when he will leave her
and parachute
into ten months of Viet Nam,
into maybe making
a human thing he may never see?
What would you call this song?
Would you call it love?
Two bullets, my father sings,
because we’re at my Uncle Jim’s wedding
in 1994, and my sister is shitfaced
on some brown bag she smuggled in,
and everyone is dancing,
and when we dance at a wedding,
maybe we’re never really listening
to the words.
Can we forgive
each other for what we will ignore
in the name of wanting
for ourselves
just an ass-hair of happiness,
just a tiny flathead screw? Can we forgive
we don’t always want to
pay attention? I’m only 12,
and I don’t know. Maybe my family,
just for tonight, doesn’t want
to hear to the story
my father is telling
to the world.
But I’m toothpick-ing cubed pepper jack
into my mouth, and my father’s song
is all that matters now, tonight,
because I’m 12 and thinking about
two holes in my father’s diabetic chest,
about my father’s band, The Stray Bullets,
behind him, about the way my mother dances
on her heels, turning the toes
of her boots in and out,
and laughing, about how it’s uniquely gorgeous,
about how people can be happy,
and should be,
about how everyone must laugh
because this is a wedding,
and we are human,
but the story of Sergeant Freeman
is sewn into the dance
number, and I can’t unhear it
because of the way my father
taught me to pull open a song
by its threads and stitches,
and my father keeps singing
about the sergeant’s son
being born, the sergeant furloughed
six weeks early, the sergeant
stopping a cab at a late-night grocer
for lilies, or baby’s breath,
or petunias, the sergeant fumbling
with the keys at the front
knob of the house, the sergeant
who opens the door
to find his wife on one knee
in the kitchen, to find
the grandfather clock’s
great wooden body still wagging its golden insides
in clicks, in clicks, in clicks,
and not to hear his baby
in the back room though
the baby is there. The sergeant
can’t hear his son
over the sound, my father sings,
and the sergeant looks down
to find the black bull nostril
of the snub nose in his wife’s hand
has already spoken,
is already smoking,
and the sergeant looks down
further, then, to find
the same two bullets
that he and his lover had loaded into the same six-shot
had already gone through his chest.
My father sings it. So the sergeant who wanted
to surprise his wife did
and ended up dead,
and this is my Uncle Jim’s wedding,
and while my father’s band zags
and bangs their unsaddled pony-tails
behind him, and while my family gets loaded
below, still, my father sings it.
My father still sings it.



Ephraim Scott Sommers is a poet and singer-songwriter from Atascadero, California. Most recently, his first book of poems, The Night We Set the Dead Kid on Fire, was awarded the 2016 Patricia Bibby First Book Award and was published by Tebot Bach Press in February of 2017. He has been featured on NPR. Recent poems, stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Cream City Review, Minnesota Review, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. Ephraim is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. For music and poems, please visit: www.ephraimscottsommers.com.