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Terhi K. Cherry: Two Poems

Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poetry Editor

Driving Through Death Valley

strange happiness swept over
him. Perhaps the angle of the sun
cast a shadow off the sand dunes,
and he recognized it
as his own. Perhaps he got out
of the car, wrestled
his own body to the ground,
tried to beat the truth
out of it. Then walked away
in surrender, dusted
his arms. Back on the road,
past the sculpted
hills, a dip below sea level,
he hit the lowest point
and the hottest place at once,
and thought of her.
How the ground shone
white, the way salt flats leaned
against the Black Mountains.
Her head had rested
on his chest. Near Badwater Basin
and the honeycomb shapes,
he imagined her as a pillar of salt.
How she had turned
the other cheek –
and wasn’t she always
looking in the direction
of going,
while every lake dried up, and
no rain sustained the heat?
And wasn’t she meant to be
the body of water
that carries life, and hadn’t he
brought the fish –
then why are these godforsaken
lands so full of beauty,
so poisonous, no one would
touch? Wasn’t he lost, too,
speeding through the badlands
like Dante’s Circles of Hell,
unable to choose
between good and evil,
between gadflies and snakes,
between the earth
ruptured, and the heaven
she’d built like a roof over
his heart? Wasn’t he
a beast?
Perhaps the sting he felt
below the collarbone
had been love,
but these wilds
were no place
for a man
to break down.
Not over a woman.
He stepped on the gas,
as if the car could pull him
out of the sea
of her worry,
shoot him up
to the highest point
at Dante’s View –
where he could
stand like a man,
look down at the Inferno,
count the miles
back to her.
*

At Denny’s

with a line from Quentin Tarantino’s
Pulp Fiction.
I didn’t grow up with guns.
I didn’t learn to dodge a bullet.
I didn’t know I would be sitting
next to a Glock Model 19
at brunch, thinking what if someone
pulls out a weapon?
I asked him, between candy colored
shakes & pancakes, ‘Do you
have a gun on you?’ Because
let’s not kid ourselves –
there are more guns than people
& some honey bunny could execute
every mother fucking last one
of us at the counter.
‘I’m surgical’, he said,
but I saw how quickly
his hand moved & sweat broke.
They worry about
the rights of good people,
the screen time of children,
the nightly intruder –
but not the kid
who gets a firearm easier than a job,
who flashes cash
for the camera & cocks a gun.
While we reload our coffees,
the kid enters the quad.
Pulls a .45 from his backpack.
Curls a finger, smiles.

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