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Gina Keicher

Date Night Camping

 

Dear Francis, A hare runs away

with the sun, pulls fire from rocks.

Camp hours age like red stars.

On a walk, we see the hunter.

He says, “You stay still for hours.”

What else could we put in these spans?

Tender bruise. Dear field held steady

beneath the timberline. We squint long

to tell what moves through the trees.

We see a fawn in tall grass

and long to be that ethereal.

Haloed in anonymity. Teeth clean

from chewing leaves, chipped

from sucking rocks to ease thirst.

The fawn says,

“I’ve been here a long while,

unrolling this sleeping bag of ferns

each night to play tic-tac-toe

with the stars. I know decades

from centuries from millennia,

how to find Dippers and Bears.

I want friend-deer to find me,

their ears jangling with science,

but there are so many cars.

I run until I find the river.

My fur stippled in constellations.

Stars that sleep in the water

while I’m fast asleep on the loam,

my head on my hooves, so dainty.

In all my dreams, people tell me,

Little deer, the gardens are not yours.

People will keep you

from their special and beautiful flowers.

 

*

 

Date Night at the Gorge

 

Dear Francis, When you walk down the gorge

I will walk up the path to meet you.

The water rolls different from its June flow.

The leaves: half green, half gold.

We hold the railing.

Snakes collect sun on the rocks.

The snakes have no place to put their sun.

People cannot drag you from the dark

when they can’t see its thick nature.

You have nothing to worry about

if you know how to tie a tight knot

and that the last perfect thing daylight shows you

in Paris is the Eiffel Tower’s unlit bones.

In Provence, a lavender field,

pastel rows waving to a sweet fence.

Where you’re from you knew someone

who could charm a snake into constellations

with songs played on a harmonica.

You know sometimes you have to sing

to snakes just to see someone dance.

The thick rope of the body bent by music.

At home, I wear my orange tank top.

Each room I pass through

wears distinct light like a century.

We can only be so tidy.

We can only save so much and take

so many online surveys

before our foreheads crack

in screen light and ache.

What’s it like to be the first to hear the song

that makes people believe in something?

Do we abandon or nurture

our specific glittering loneliness?

 

*

 

Date Night at Denny’s

 

Dear Francis, The universe bloomed

early this year. Pollen snakes through

our red, swollen faces.

Particles we cannot see

but we know they exist.

Like knowing there are strip malls

where we turn to light

or whenever I go to Denny’s

I will have an awkward run-in

with someone I used to know.

Listen to yourself place an order

if you want to like yourself less.

The waitress brings caffeinated orange,

decaf green. Three kinds of pie.

A strawberry shake with two straws

in the glass. Buffalo tenders.

The pony says the tip depends

on how many refills appear,

how quick they arrive.

The pony is being an asshole.

Denny’s is not the place

to have a serious talk.

Chairs scrape the stained rug.

People study menus

and make easy choices.

Elbows rest on paper placemats

with reverses mazed

in space labyrinths through stars.

Where serious talks ebb

into microgravity. And movie magic

alleges we may be unalone and lost

for years before anyone notices:

the signal from beyond

our skulls’ yawning orbits.

Stars in our faces.

An aluminum shimmer

on our milkshake pink tongues.

 

*

 

We Date Back

 

Dear Francis, When I think how small we are,

          the brevity of shimmer, I can eat again.

Would you rather be the best or brightest star?

          Could you hold me when I get tired

and stop running. It changes you,

          the hope: if I keep moving

I will fall sooner or later. We read in half-life,

          assembled bodies, two radioactive beacons.

Shine decay into night dark as deep water.

          We date back to our first flicker

on a living room floor, my back against a baseboard,

          burning. At work I stand on the stairs

and eye the step striped in yellow paint

          so no one would miss it. I have missed that stair

so many times, I do not believe it exists.

          I raise my arms before the air vent, like I am brave,

riding a rollercoaster. A sadness overwhelms the day.

          We go where we are strangers.

Pass a house, a strip club ad stenciled in a window.

          I tear a future from the fields we pass,

vase the bouquet at a motel.

          The future has a moss smell, looks red and tall.

In the dark I see a face above your sleeping face.

          I start missing you before you leave.

Your green monogrammed duffel. By now you know

          I believe in forever, long as the red rig

we climbed on our night walk. Curling arms

          around waists. Like always and a chainsaw.

 

*

 

Date Night with Windmills Spinning in the Background

 

Dear Francis, We are burning.

Fire engines frequent the streets.

I see people and get nervous.

Some do not wait to leave.

I know wind funneled mid-eye.

How deep sadness unrolls

like a fern, opens into fatigue.

That underwater feel. You can hear

everything almost. You can touch

the world almost. But you can’t

come up. People used to pay

big money for portraits of their dead.

Then they invented the photograph,

framed affordable grief.

Artifacts in which flowers cascade

across people who appear

to be fast asleep in a garden.

In pictures, the dead are sunspots or mist.

Hard to see them if you do not know

what to look for. The cooler the air,

the dimmer our ideas to keep warm.

Like a newspaper’s tender euphemisms

for suicide. I take a picture—

a line of windmills towered

across a horizon. I get blank,

so empty I miss the storm

bruising the sky, clouds

fencing in purple-green depth.

Some people jump the fence.

Some bridges have hotline numbers

nailed to them. Or graffiti

like: “Never give up.”

If all this is too much—standing outside

at midnight, teeth chattering

while everyone around us sings—

you can pull your luck behind you

like a sled if you want. Spend days

roadside, camera overhead, counting cars.

If a blue car goes by, or a red or a mist.

What eye in space stares down

to thaw the snow felting the city

like a little ceramic village.

Whose dead eye melts my film.

 

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