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King’s Valley

The neighbor is eating locusts again,

as if a plague were just another

point of view, sitting out back of his caved

two-story, squinting skyward, a cast

iron in hand, a mouthful of

wings ground to dust. My sister’s

busy too, straddling the fence, getting out

our mom’s gold pumps, spritzing her hair

into a hive of black. She’s making the universal

honk-your-horn sign at truckers who pass

with their loads of skinny firs bound

to cross the Pacific. If they’re lucky they get

a kiss blown over the yellow line, because

they’re only ever traveling

in one direction & that’s away from King’s

Valley, a place known for its dead

settlers & Xmas trees. There’s a whole

cemetery for land-claimers here, where

locals leave antlers & Hot Wheels & red

polyester carnations on the graves

they like best. People with names like Nayhem

& Sarepta, who saw their kids give up

the ghost to ailments nobody can pronounce

anymore, might be happy

to know they’re still missed. The point

of the steeple on the only church for miles

around blew down & no one’s the means or the mind

to fix it. My mother is trying to

be the good hostess

she hopes I’ll one day grow

into, schooling a girl named Mynda

toward the GED we all say

stands for Goodness Ends

in Degrees; showing her the difference

between the progressive & perfect

tenses; how to interpret

the verse “touch me

not, for I have not yet ascended;” the necessity

of opening the day with a sorry for trespasses

unwittingly made. I have a habit of trespassing

to see our neighbor’s sow, the one who gave

birth to thirteen piglets, only

to crush them in her sleep. She’s had so many litters

over the years & they’re all defecating

into the creek now, making us worry our wells

will fail us. I also

have a habit of visiting his cat

Confederate Gray, who licks the air

if you stroke her ribs. My sister asks me to cut

her hair again, & again we drop the locks

in the creek & hope it never stops

moving away from us. It seems we’ll get by

with our lie a little longer, if only

because the nematodes are failing

to save the Yukon Golds & the thistle is

going to seed & Mark, a family

friend who happens to be hard

up, is sleeping on the couch, asking us

to call him Lucky like it’s Desert

Storm all over again. He takes it

upon himself to learn me

vigilance, which is to say, self

defense. He tells me to give

him everything I’ve got,

but I’ve never done that

for anyone, & I don’t think I’m ready

to begin. His forearm finds its way

to my throat & his knee goes right

between my legs. He holds me

to the wall till I admit

I’m licked, which happens quick, but anyway

humiliation’s hardly real

when only John Wayne is watching

from his lacquered saw blade on the wall

& anyway does anybody survive war

without being won

over by the dream of decline? You can find us

on ghosttowns.com, or you can find us

on A&E, re-running our stories

about how haunted this place really is—

women waking up to translucent children

braiding their hair, all those farmhands

who saw Old Man Cosgrove only visible

from the waist up, who tells them

this valley is paradise & no one’s

told him otherwise. There’s a store here

called The Store & it just quit

selling gas because its holding

tanks are pure rust & won’t hold another

drop. Still, you can purchase Dreamsicles

& Bud & homecured

jerky, & Charlotte who runs

the show will skin & quarter your kill for free

if you bale her hay. She says

the locusts are in cahoots with their stinging cousins

who inhabit the dirt & just recently flew

up my shorts & stung me till I stripped

stark, till I climbed a livewired

fence & ran two meadows only

to find out I was amusing

the neighbor’s pigs, who cooled in the mud,

blinking away flies. My father got so pissed

he set the whole nest aflame, only

the fire didn’t stay

where he put it & so a season’s worth

of growth went up in smoke

& the locusts mourned & the scent

of singed Rieslings lingered in my hair

for a whole week. He said it was lightning

had struck, & Mynda wrote a song

in honor of the crop. I remember

only the phrase “portentous

clouds vandalizing blue.” The insects remained

unscathed. I admit I’m proud

of my sister for mastering false

lashes & liquid liner, for painting cat eyes

that’d make Audrey jealous

if she were alive & smoking

as if it weren’t deadly & dancing

with Fred Astaire. There isn’t much to check out

at The Store, but Funny Face is one

option & my sister & I know every

line by heart, every step

& throb of Technicolor. So we watch it again

while Dad feeds the burn barrel yesterday’s

news & the high-gloss catalogues

he doesn’t want us

to be tempted by & the boxes of cereal

that always say, “Better Luck

Next Time” & sometimes it seems

the future has a habit of repeating itself.

from Poetry Northwest Spring & Summer 2018More by Devon Walker-Figeroa from the library

Copyright © Devon Walker-Figeroa, 2018.
Used with the permission of the author on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Published in Devon Walker-Figueroa Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.