- Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley
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.
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.
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 folk. Against
& the night resets again,
& 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.