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Online Poems by Adrian C. Louis

From Salt Hill

Manifest Destination

A hot wind curls the leaves
and chases the dogs digging
deep into the dry soil.
I live in the gut of the bright failure
called America. I live in
this hell named Nebraska.
It's one hundred and seven today
and grasshoppers from outer
space are dancing in my brain.
The air-conditioner is broke
so I run a tub of cold water
and submerge every half hour.
There's a wet trail from the bath
to the couch and nearby fan.
The air is heavy with grain dust.
The "wheaties" are up from Oklahoma
with their caravan of combines.
I crave winter. I want a blizzard
that blinds me to my fellow man.
These are my dark times.
Every other day I grieve for the me
that was and every man or woman
I see fills me with contempt.
Nine out of ten Skins in town are
hang-around-the-fort welfare addicts.
Every weekend their violence
and drunken wretchedness
fills the county jail, but I'm
far beyond embarrassment because
the white people are even worse.
Varied branches of that inbred, toothless
mountain trash in "Deliverance,"
settled here and now own
the bank and most businesses.
It's undeniably true that these
white people in Cowturdville
could be hillbillies except for
the fact that these are The Plains.

Drive on, rednecks, to the edge
of your flat world and fall
down to a better hell.

Every single thing about this
town is sadly second-rate
and I haven't been laid
in more than two years
and there's this fat lady
with varicose veins who
calls me late at night
and begs me to come over
to her trailer for a drink.
Here, in this Panhandle town,
farm kids speed desperately up
and down the main drag wearing
baseball caps backwards and throwing
gang signs they've seen on the tube
and their parents, glad they're old
and tired, truly believe that
those pictures we're now getting
from Mars have meaning.
As far as I can tell, I'm one of the few
people in Cowturdville who's gone
to college and I often wish I
never had, but Christ on a pogo
stick . . . I think I'm starting to like
it here in this American heartland.

Thunderheads are forming
and the sweet-ass rain
of forgiveness is in the air.


from The Cortland Review

Song of the Snake

Several years slithered by
and then an honor song played
on KILI-FM is how I find you
passed on to the spirit world.
First thought: the snake grew back.
There are some of us the snake will not
bite at all; we're either lucky or cursed.
Others will get bit, punch the snake in
the eyeball, and toss it away forever.

And others of us will get bit, yank
the snake away and leave the teeth
imbedded in our inflamed flanks.
We'll be fine for a while, then those
fangs will begin to gestate; eventually
the snake will grow back full-sized
and spitting, guiding us to stand
with shit-pants and wild, holy eyes,
hands out, begging for a cure.
Tahansi...that was you
when last we met.


Adios Again, My Blessed Angel
of Thunderheads and Urine

Ah, so there you are, somewhere between the
demerol and the morphine, silently emptying
my catheter jug. Don't do that, I want to say,
but my voice is lost from two weeks on the
ventilator. Baby Girl, I want to say hello, say
I know your name, say how much I've always
loved you, but only a rasp comes and then you
are gone forever again.

I know I've got a crinkled picture of you
boxed somewhere in my shuttered house.
The image is as foreign as it is faded.
Somewhere west of Tulsa, you are leaning
against a black Bug, smiling and pointing
at a remarkable formation of thunderheads
that tower and bluster miles past heaven.
Your long, black hair dances below your waist.
Your worn Navy bell bottoms are snug against
your perfect legs, your strong, loving hips.
After I snap the photo, you tell me that
you're going back to nursing school.
Me, I'll wander in the wilderness for thirty years
before I see you again, and then, it will be only
for a brief minute while you empty my urine
bucket and I try to cough up words that
will not come like the flashing pain beneath
my sutures that signals healing and wonder.


from Hanksville

Note to a Young Rez Artist

Hey, I thought they were eagles circling
above, a good luck sign for Skins, but closer
inspection revealed them to be the turkey
vultures of broken English.

Hey, I remember once you sent me
a hand-scrawled note saying you were out
of typewriter ribbons and I sent you off
fifty bucks that same day
and you wrote back saying you got
the ribbons and some Big Macs to boot.

Young brother, now I'm puzzled
down to the core of my sour-wine soul,
I'm mired in middle age
and you're becoming famous
before your time and I'd envy you
except that I, too, thought
I knew what red pain was
in my mad-groined, goofball twenties.

1997 Adrian Louis. Ceremonies of the Damned, University of Nevada Press. Online source:

from North Dakota Quarterly

Getting a Second Opinion

I've just bought you a new winter coat
and we're temporarily sane,
cruising two blocks down the street
from K-Mart in Rapid City.
Three young Indian boys,
fourteen, maybe fifteen years
old and living the thug life
are strolling across the busy street
making cars stop and I slam on
the brakes and give them the finger
and they flash gang signs and one pulls
a small, silver gun and I stomp on the gas
and in the rearview mirror I see them
laughing and I know positively
by the fear in your eyes that
not only is the white man's God
dead, but the Great Spirit is too.


from New Letters

Black is This Night of Love

"I hope we make it home
before this storm," I say.
"I hope we make it home
before this storm," you say.
Me: "It's gonna be bad."
You: "It's gonna be bad."
It's incredibly black, black beyond
metaphor just before the blizzard hits.
Late March, late night in the car
near Bordeaux Creek, in the pines
between Chadron and Rushville.
The trunk of our new used LeSabre
is pregnant with supplies,
mostly TV dinners from Safeway
since I do all the cooking now
and the Blue Oyster Cult anthem
"Don't Fear the Reaper"
is rocking the oldies station.
I reach over, pretend to muss your hair
but really I'm holding down
the dark balloon that is your head.
You wiggle your skull from my hand.
"Sometimes you really get on my nerves,"
I say and reach for your hand
thinking of the three times tonight
you wandered off in the grocery store.
"Sometimes you really get on my nerves,"
you say and squeeze my hand back.
"I love you," I say.
"I love you," you say.
"Are you just mocking me?" I ask
I can't see your eyes, not that it would help.
"Sometimes you get on my nerves," you say.
You let go of my bloodless hand.
"What's wrong?" I ask.
"I don't know," you say.
"Really, what's wrong?"
Again you say that you don't know.
"Okay," I say, "Let's do the tables.
How much is six times six?"
You: "Sixty-six."
"Five times five?"
You: "Ninety-five."
"That's wrong. What's five times five?"
"I don't know," you answer.
"Shit," I yell, exasperated.
Searing, sizzling sad, I crank up
the Blue Oyster Cult and fill the void
until the white swirling blizzard hits.
Somewhere in the blinding snow
I feel your hand on my shoulder.
"I love you," you say.
"I doubt it," I say,
a pitiful big man pouting in darkness.
"I love you, " you say, and I shudder
and reach for your hand.
It is warm and you are wakan.

from New Letters, 64:1, 148. Online source:

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