Mudlark Poster No. 126 (2015)

Borderlands | Poems by Christopher Locke

Brushstrokes | Day Of The Dead | So Emo | Trespassers


Finally it was night in Sevilla, the air
warm and tumbling past the gates
of our bodies, a frail wooden trellis 
woven with night blooming jasmine, 
its perfume slunk dark and delicious. 
What starlight there was chinked the river, 
small waves opening near our feet like palms 
upturned, and understanding want I plunked 
a coin, one hundred pesetas, silver winking 
until the river blackened my wish. We were 
still wobbled from dinner: a busy courtyard, 
long tables where locals hoisted beer, octopus 
dripping oil, hazelnuts roasted brown 
until they crunched like split wood; great 
bolts of fabric strewn high above us, shade 
against the daytime sun, insufferable, unrepentant. 
We couldn’t keep our hands off each other, 
and paying the bill, slanted ourselves down 
another alley, another table, more jamon y 
queso, sherry chilled colder than the winter 
we fled in New Hampshire, its eaves now iced 
into rows of crystalline teeth. You promised 
me body and marrow, a mouth wet to 
the touch, reminding me of O’Keeffe: 
that deeply swollen iris, her wild and 
unapologetic red poppy, and the very first 
time you undressed those paintings for me. 

Day Of The Dead

I pull my drunk friend out from inside
a bush, and think he must be looking
for the Mexico he’s read about: a story 
of The Beats, myth of newsprint photo 
with ringleader Ginsberg looking insane, 
neck roped in marigolds as he smiles
next to a burro, Kerouac to his
right and already sideways off clay
tumblers of shadow-cool mescal,
the pink bake of sun unseen above
them in San Miguel de Allende. 
What else explains my friend’s 
impersonation of Neal Cassady, 
himself found dead not far from
here after a marathon of cards
and booze, the cold iron of westerly
tracks his final bed, dumb enough
to pass out and freeze to death high
up in the desert night. Dumb. So I
yank him hard and loose-lipped off 
the cobblestone, stand him up in 
this city echoing with wedding cake
churches and wide, empty plazas,
and slap his face hard. “Wake up,”
I tell him, and hail a green and white 
taxi trundling by, throw him in the back 
and hand the driver 50 pesos, an address. 
“Gracias por todo,” I say, and shut 
the door, thinking, one less gringo 
to fill a jail cell tonight. I stand next 
to a park fountain gurgling blood 
red in reverence to Dia de los 
Muertos; three tiny skulls made 
of sugar sit on the ledge, forgotten,
or left in tribute. Tomorrow, my friend, 
shy and hungover, will call with some
version of sorry, and I will say no 
problem, though it is, and turn back 
to an altar made of dried corn and 
flower petals, a small clear glass 
of rum left for a friend recently
dead, another drinker, because 
tradition dictates you leave loved
ones something they treasured in this
life, regardless. But I am no hero. And 
now, sitting on the edge of the fountain, 
I see the same stars we all see, have 
always seen, high and tangled in their 
indifference, steely grains fastened 
to a sky that once held Dean Moriarty 
outside Denver; lights Kerouac believed 
strong enough to serve as halos.

So Emo

David Bowie laments his voice
is not a stairwell leading him up
from the turntable and into the streets 
of Berlin. I want to escape with him. 
But instead I consider the penny 
taped to the needle, its copper 
weight an antidote to all the crackled 
bouncing. I finish my fourth Michelob, 
tucking the empty under my bed 
with the others. My parents will 
be home any minute and I’ve lost 
all fear of them; what do they know—
not heartbreak paraded amongst 
a wilderness of lockers, or the decry
of a football team mumbling
faggot as their fists pound invisible 
spikes into my skull, my French
teacher turning thankfully away. 
My eyes marvel the razor’s bright 
anthem: so much fresh canvas of leg 
and arm and chest and the warm drip 
of paint drying outback where I 
graffitied a giant, circled “A” 
for anarchy against the broke-down 
chicken coop, letting people know 
not to mess with me. I am supreme 
ruler of this domain—this shuttered 
room of overturned laundry and shameful, 
private orgasms. I turn back 
to the music: Bowie lilts and 
chunders and promises we can all
be heroes as my parents’ car cuts 
like a shark into the darkening drive.


The snow, bread-torn and 
scattered, patchworks this field 
and this wood, this narrow chasm 
cum walking path through which 
the three of us falter. My wife 
walks ahead as if in a different 
movie, a silent picture that ends 
with her arrival somewhere else, 
radiant and alone, and it’s all I 
can do not to wish her luck. Our 
youngest daughter doesn’t notice, 
or is kind enough to pretend otherwise, 
and instead yanks an adolescent 
maple down by its neck, bounces 
its snowy crown to dust, laughing. 
Her joy lengthens the distance 
between us, compounds the absence 
of our oldest daughter felt everywhere, 
long since she joined these hikes—what 
did she call them?—to nowhere. Now 
she spends weekends with friends, my
fear she’s repeating what I did at her
age: raiding liquor cabinets or agreeing 
to the next great high, images of her 
discovering new, beautiful countries 
of loneliness. I chase my youngest 
uphill then down, ice-weary and 
heaving, dodging tiny snowballs 
made by tinier hands. My wife leans 
against a spruce, “Pull her close,” 
she commands, so I do. She snaps 
a photo with her phone, stores it in 
a place I no longer have access, a border 
I am no longer allowed to cross. 

Christopher Locke is the Nonfiction Editor for Slice magazine in Brooklyn. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous publications, including Verse Daily, Southwest Review, Poetry East, Arc Poetry Magazine (Canada), The Nervous Breakdown, 32 Poems, The SHOp (Ireland), West Branch, RATTLE, The Literary Review, Ascent, The Sun, Connecticut Review, Upstreet, Agenda (London), and he has read his poems on both National Public Radio and Ireland’s Radio One. Locke has five chapbooks of poetry and has received two Dorothy Sargent Poetry Awards, as well as grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, New Hampshire Council on the Arts, and Fundacion Valparaiso (Spain). His first full-length collection of poems, End of American Magic, was released by Salmon Poetry in 2010. Waiting for Grace & Other Poems (Turning Point Books) and the collection of essays Can I Say (Kattywompus Press) were both released in 2013. His essay/poetry collection about his travels through Latin America, Ordinary Gods (Salmon Poetry), and his first book for children, The Heart Flyer (tapStory), were both recently accepted for publication.

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