Puking in the Wabash after work
Seeing as the Wabash is cloudspit
a fur-trader misheard white water over
white stones, Monsanto has renamed it
Dishwasher #3 since me & Vertis must have
a place to drag these hotel pans & rinse
the banquet salmon out. Some place of trash
to drag the trash. Top of the world says Vert
when the sludge of it slicks each step. We hang
back, undo aprons the restaurant made us buy.
Back in the circus tent, a bold new era
of disease resistant seeds is breached & just
behind that podium, dishes are piling
high as the next glacier that will slide its knees
across all this, when names will stop & Nothing
will run through the drainage ditches behind
shutdown stripmalls from Kankeekee to Pallet
Mountain, through dead sycamore, through septic
fields from SIA to Oakdale—best catfish
by a dam site—& at Frito Lay Nothing
will gather grease & dead fish like gobs of spit
in a glass me & Vertis will clean.
Sooner or later, this shift is over.
Our cigarettes have been lit. The cherry
has been held against the factory dark.
When the river is called Nothing it will
still smell of sweat that dripped from the keys
of the register of the last open
liquor store in America, which is
a couch where a livetrap yawns on a broke-
in body wrapped in the enthusiastic
flannel of the age, some Hoosier, disinclined
to rage. & if my family comes to this
water, sits in this water, wades up to
the edge, would we be home? We speak plant. You drunk
says Vert. & I mouth the blueflame pollen the aluminum
plant blooms: arc, spark, sludge, words flicked from a chain.
If rust belts are wrapped around the neck
of the fence, it’s true my tongue is a bathmat
for the foot of talking, each word slipped
under the emergency shower, each
word a skinned fish gut in the jaw’s grass,
dressed clean in slick shade. It’s true I threw
a word up into the river & the river gave it
back, rockpolishwet, like a stranger.
You can’t be baptized in Nothing but you
can be wrung. I light Vert’s smoke
so mosquitoes will keep away. I have tried
to quit. Top of the world & we are sitting
in the flood light of a corn syrup
factory, pouring out vodka so cold
it tastes of nothing, or hot aluminum
& what nothing is next.
Revision of The Shining
Let’s say he puts back what whiskey the ghost
poured, stops wandering the halls,
pounding his tennis ball into sundust.
Instead of wringing the snowflake
of his drunkenness out, he tells his wife
about process, and goes to work.
Five months on the wagon? Let’s say
I’ve had it too. Three years he says
since he’s pulled the kid’s arm from its socket
When a man punched a hole in the wall
of her house, let’s say my mother cocked her
head, and said Hope that feels good
now get the spackle and fix it.
Let’s say I learned to hate the man
who whined about having to do
what he had to do. Say Jack does
too. Let’s say a man is not an empty room
in which a cigarette simmers. Typing away
at an endless buffet, like a goof king
dictating a missive to a farflung conquistador,
gesturing over piles of meat, retiring
to the little room and the couch,
where it is buzzing brain leaky nothing time
in the unreliable now, for the sad-sad man
with the slouch. Let’s say I never knew this room,
where even now there is golden ice—
there is golden ice in a glass held gracefully
by a stone hand, and the golden ice
at the bottom of the glass says Shhh
Jacob Sunderlin is a 2019 NEA Fellow, who has also received support from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. His poems appear in Beloit Poetry Journal, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, Narrative, and elsewhere.