CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN AS GROCERY BAGGER

 

One time I stole a pear.

Another day, three pounds of beef.

The pear was so hard, I threw it

through the window of an SUV

in the parking lot after dark

and the sound of it sang

like the first home run in spring.

I knew a guy who always knew

how to play the piano—

just sat down one day for the first time

and pulled a song out of the thing

like starting a new lawnmower.

I swear he rode that parlor grand

around the block, prettying up

the days of strangers.

So suburban, the piano.

I was always a lousy pickpocket.

My hands are swift as rust.

But I can stare into a shopper’s eyes

like a priest and know their sins.

I know they dream of being dragged

from their homes in the almost-heat of May

and called devil! for staring too long

at the checkout girl’s mouth or

getting high once a month in the garage

while the kids are sleeping

but never for the way they shop,

never for ignoring rot.

The day I stole the beef, I

stepped out of work early,

thawing meat beneath my jacket,

and dripped blood the whole way home,

reddening lawns and sidewalks.

The puddle I left on my doorstep

was almost warm.

 

 

SELF-PORTRAIT AS IRON RANGE

 

 Yesterday, I took woodcutting lessons

from a chainsaw. My body was fast

and oblivious. I tilted my head

further and further as I watched

the machine disappear and reappear.

Somebody must have lifted me

from the grass like I wasn’t filled with iron ore,

like I wasn’t a small town in the North. I

became a belly of earth and immigrants

lined up in front of me with pickaxes.

Still, now. Spill, now.

There was a man with cuts

on his knuckles like little hungry snakes,

and two women who fell asleep

standing, dropped their axes,

and severed their big toes.

The digits burned through the ground

as meteors might.

There were more: children

with the teeth of animals;

animals circling themselves,

trying to lick the blood from their sides;

floating pickaxes; fires starting everywhere;

people whispering steam

as if it were the name of some angry god;

flotsam on the lake.

I grew tired of being a mine.

They built more and more machines around me,

but I did not become a hospital bed.

They traded what they tore from me

for food, but I did not become a field.

Then there was a city nearby.

Then I was filled with yellow birds.

Then I was left alone at night.

Then I got to thinking.


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Michael Mlekoday is the author of The Dead Eat Everything (Kent State University Press, 2013), winner of the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize. He is currently an MFA candidate at Indiana University, where he serves as Poetry Editor of Indiana Review. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Anti-, and other journals. He is a National Poetry Slam Champion.