We dipped our shoulders beneath the heat and found whiskey in the earth. Cars passed. Passengers stared. And still darkness eased its way across the scabland. And still we persisted.
Grandma, dead at eighty of emphysema, who scoured the reservoirs for arrowheads, speaks, tells me “no, no, only the penny slots, don’t want them Indians too rich now, do we boy?” I see her dry waterfall of a face in the cheap pine coffin her sons were too weak or fat to lower on their own.
Uncle George (Custer), dead at eighteen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-eight, thirty-three, forty-one and fifty-nine—who, with Coyote (a friend of his who, after his wife kicked him out, stayed in a motor home by George’s double-wide for eight years) once took me hunting with a water-cooled machine gun—lights up the sky with three thousand dollars worth of fireworks every Fourth. I hear gravy drip from his beard, his mouth open, teeth all awry. His truck has no brake shoes; he says he’ll fix them when the emergency wears out.
Every September the air would gasp beneath the bluegrass burns of Idaho. They’re illegal now. There’s a feeling they—used to—give me. The way fires dove past the seeds, trying to find something deeper in the soil. The way the coffee-stained horizon coughed up bits of darkness. The way smoke, made of so many small machines, so many moving parts, leaked light.
Jackson Holbert’s work has appeared in Thrush Poetry Journal and A-Minor Magazine and Columbia College Literary Review. He is originally from Nine Mile Falls, Washington and now lives in Waltham, Massachusetts.