J A C O B S U N D E R L I N
TWO POLAROIDS WITH BLOOD IN THEM FOUND IN A JUNK DRAWER
The X my mother
pressed into each
to show whose blood
The paper towel
stuck to the gash in his forehead
[not a crown]
& behind, his work jumper, left laying,
fallen from the line
like a snake’s peeled off part
pressed itself into the ground.
TALKING TO SUGAR ABOUT THE AFTERLIFE
God never clapped back
in any kind of lightning voice
or thunder-throated & drunken
slid across the sky
on bottleneck & knife,
or glissando'd down chemtrails
hung like a chokechain
or guitar strung
above any neighborhood
I’d been to, but
something must have showed face
in the crust of the cold
blue-dark blossom of saliva
dried to the carpet
& he wanted to be sky buried anyway,
she had said, like they do in Tibet,
so that’s why she left him
in the hall after he OD’d
& threw open the windows
across 3rd St. from the bar
where we stood in afterwork
clouds of smoke
watching cops gather
& stretch yellow tape
we weren’t supposed to see.
ELEGY AS NOTICE THAT NOBODY'S HIRING
I don’t remember his name, the enlisted dude
who said this town was bullshit as being
back at basic, anyway, stabbing
a cigarette through the plastic wrapped
around the pack, dragon blazed across
the psychedelic sky of fake-silk shirt,
waiting for the bus after work.
He stared deep into the dishwater like my brother
& I would stare at dead raccoons
floating facedown in Freeman Lake.
Said he’d bring us back a thousand bucks
of Afghan kush from overseas—That’s my college—
saying he knows of a guy, just off base,
who could get this acid.
He said you take it in your eyes.
I REMEMBER THE 1957 CHEVY BEL-AIR
is a two-door, hard-top, & it’s primer-colored,
color of moss or mushrooms at the base
of a cutdown tree, like it has always been there,
rusting into dust next to the acetylene
& the cherrypicker & the spit. I remember it was bought & sold.
I remember how much I’ve been told
a man needs a hobby & how for his
my dad & uncle drove to Illinois to talk a man down
to five hundred from a thousand.
I remember sleeping in the backseat as they traded
the-yard-needing-fixed look, so he could give the guy his
&-let-that-rope-be-made-of-money look right back.
I remember how often people say you are from nowhere
here, so that nowhere grows inside you
& since this two-tone Bel-Air has rusted inside the nowhere
it rusted inside of me, in its garage of nowhere,
among the flat caps of shelf mushrooms that grow
in the nowhere made of whatever this we is
made of—you might start to think of this as inheritance.
I don’t remember buying it, but having bought it,
riding back with my uncle, tailing the Chevy as it swerved
like a sailboat in the lane. I remember,
between Fithian & Oakwood, out 150, the light that late
fall light, the light off a beertop, flipping the dial
from static to static, I pushed the cigarette
lighter in just to see it burn. I remember a cloud
of dust, semi-trailer in the other lane like a whale
we’d rowed up to, some dumbass
in a Mazda straddling two lanes & the wind
as it passes—I remember the cigarette lighter
pops out, red. I remember that car had a smell,
it’s still in there somewhere, if you roll
the windows down, & sit in it—the smell of a silent interior,
the smell of something closed up so long,
never touched, which grew to fill the space it left.
I remember that day at the side of the road
he sat in it, my father, knuckles around the wheel,
laughing like he stole something.
Jacob Sunderlin is the author of This We in the Back of the House (Saturnalia Books, 2022). A writer and musician, his poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Narrative, and other magazines. His work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Educated at public schools, he teaches tenth grade at one in Indiana.