Four Poems





Get Out of the Goddamn Car,


says my father           and I’m leaping

out onto the highway pavement           the road

is not a spilled ribbon          of bow-tied asphalt not

the powdered rib           cage of likely-beaten

boys it is just           fucking

concrete.           I ragdoll

through God’s           unpaved

underbelly His surfacing           pebble-pocked lesions

curl my hands           against a guardian angel

who never           Never came alive for me

in faith I stretch           myself long across traffic

lane after unending lane           as if

there is a mother’s minivan           who will take me

far from the floodgates           of heaven

buoy me to safety           restart my world with a rainbow

like Noah’s magic boat never           dreamt it could.









On the Occasion I Participated in Two Very Different Flag Burnings



We called it retiring

Old Glory, Troop 276,

us middle school boys

in our green and tan uniforms

filling every concrete crease

of a United Methodist church’s

parking lot. “Under the code,”

said the Scoutmaster, “the flag,

when it is in such condition

that it is no longer a fitting symbol

for display, should be obliterated.

By burning.”

He turned to us boys with bent arms

held at weakest attention. 640

flags cast carefully over

the long iron teeth of a smoldering pit,

soft names muffled beneath the black girth

of its tongue. Fire filled our eyes,

flags dissolving like ice.



Them and Us.

Blue and Brown.

Batons and bedsheets burning red, white, &

we are scattering

in the face of weaponized Blue.                          

Some of us are free

to wonder about speech.

Others tongue-tossed, tied in metal infinity

symbols. Names chanted. Protestor’s lips:

Jordan Edwards. Jayson Negron. Terence Crutcher.

Our teeth are stained from talking of the deep black,

of insatiable fire pits. We wave red tongues

above the face of a tyrant, our only

recourse the soft lash of symbolic gesture.

In the parking lot, they greet us with an older glory:

with rubber bullets, with sandbags, with helmet and shield,

with enough tear gas and muzzle fire to fill our eyes.







Buckshot Mouthwash


Wynona calls it cradling            a 20-gauge


& cracking open            its break-action


over her pregnant belly          thumbing two


red shells over           & under & grinning


peak           of her smile wider


than the summit           of Sugarloaf Knob


of this Appalachian foothill.           But damn


even with babies           boiling inside


she can bushwhack           faster than a new car


through a nickajack           so all us guys give


her a break about           coming rattlesnake


hunting out           of season in jean shorts.


Chet obliterates           a rattler’s arrowed dome


concussive force           whipping its pale underbelly


kite string quick           cloud bound and raining blood.


I remember myself           now mouthful


of semi-straight teeth           instead of buckshot


in this poem           on that red evening how I


plucked the snake           her still strong & winding


around my forearm           a brilliance of scales


green black green           I knew she had wanted to live


not headless           not embarrassed into


a baby’s first            rattle.









You & me’s grandaddies churn to oil in cheap caskets: they’re white-hot pollution, these corpses clogging every artery of our collective water body. It begins with the Susquehanna River, steamed cow patties stuck between their toes, tonight our kinfolk closed-canoe chase

            us boys, above ground—their flock of only begotten son’s sons—toward the ass-end

                        of this Lakawanna crick. Night’s for bike racing and vandalism. So us boys                                 don’t speak of what’s dead, Max’s granpappy, poking holes in his leaky roof

                                    of tomb—how he snuffed himself a week or so back. (They say,

                                    his fingernails have already grown four foot, or longer

                                               than a wheel of fresh cheese.) Or Chuck’s paw who died with rigor

                                               mortis in his cock. (Four foot, erect, we squealed something louder

                                                            than a butcher’s floor of stuck pigs.) Your own blood

                                                            even made the rounds. What an ancient bastard,                                                                      submerged down river in a half-vacant double-wide,

                                                                        his coffin twice the size of your own trailer: truck:                                                                                       lean-to. (Granny refused being buried

                                                                                    beside him—said sure as a cocked shotgun

                                                                                                he’s still grinding up the crabapple

                                                                                                mash of his catcalling gums.

                                                                                    You’ve outrun them. You got one perfect

                                                set of teeth between yins & you’re all lubricated nutty

                                                with bolted on smiles, you’re riding every other breath visible

                                    on each other’s bike pegs, chromatic, downhill, helmetless,

                                    & airbound toward that night’s rumored construction

                        site. Behind, City Island

                        is a great plain of obliterating peach orchards, lit up

            brighter than the ends of your stolen Swisher Sweets.

            You’re high riding the hills of a scoliosed dragon’s spine,

spray paint cans clattering in backpacks. & already poor

Sam catches the bad side of a gravel trap, sprawling.

            You howl: get up you fucking pussy, laughing your asses

            warm against dewy seats, but he has the good

                        shwag. So you dust off his pack & all take turns

                        flicking the shared lighter like old pros, inhaling

                                    coughing, whooping like it isn’t always the same damn weekend.

                                    Whooping louder than any bleeding belt

                                                burn you’ll earn from getting home

                                                late. Whooping like there really is construction in this town,

                                                            & a site to tag, & 16oz hammers for your carpenter jeans.

                                                            Whooping like you aren’t the chased runoff of this burg’s

                                                                        miners & mill men & masons. Your white

                                                                        tees stained with America’s flag sputtering

                                                                                    against the beating coffins of your ribcages:

                                                                                    tees reading BUD LIGHT: KING OF                                                                                                            BEERS as the wind picks up

                                                                                                your spirits with mother’s hands

                                                                                                            & you give up

                                                                                                            the chase at the edge

                                                                                                of the ass-end

                                                                                                of Conodoguinet Crick.

                                                                                    You circle up:

                                                                                    each boy strangling the amber neck

                                                                        of empty beer bottles.

                                                                        & no one here knows

                                                            how to play

                                                            the violin, the horn,

                                                or even a jerry-rigged guitar.

                                                So. You stomp.

                                    You clap.

                                    You folk. Against

                        your father’s

                        quiet desperation.

                                    & the night resets again,


                                                the shoes

                                                right off

                                                            your feet.

                                                            & and you slide

                                                                        into that crick

                                                                        headfirst. & for the first


                                                                                    today, really smiling.






Ben Kingsley is best known for his Academy Award winning role as Mahatma Gandhi. A touch less famous, Affrilachian author Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley has not acted since his third-grade debut as the undertaker in Music Man. A Kundiman and UPenn alumni, Ben is currently the 22nd Tickner Writing Fellow and recipient of a Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center fellowship as well as scholarships from Tin House, Sewanee, & VONA. He belongs to the Onondaga Nation of Indigenous Americans in New York. Peep his work from 2017 in Best New Poets (ed. Natalie Diaz), Boston Review, the Iowa Review, Narrative, Ninth Letter, PANK, PEN America, the Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, & Tin House, among others. 



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