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  • Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley

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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