A FREIGHT OF BRUISED WHITE PEACHES
I have this friend who lives on the frontage roads
between Portland and Sacramento,
a bark-faced bard with the voice of the mesa jackals
and the smell of ripening fruit on his hands.
He races phantoms swathed
in the dirty glamors of the desert,
and the twanging faint music that blows in from brown valleys
with the bluebonnet, sliding into rain-slick residential
streets, where milk moons make shrines
of the disinfected normal,
And waiting by stoplights that mimic signal fires,
he spreads the torn maps on his dashboard
in their moss-edged pieces, to the police scanner,
and lovingly lines the rivers up.
Like me, he’s looking for a land that never was.
When we swap stories as fellow crusaders, I’m sitting
at the kitchen counter with a strawful of smoothie
between my teeth, and he’s following the heat-waves
away from El Paso, and the brass clink of cymbal-song.
I hear the heartbeat of his engines,
and the grind of beer-bottle dust beneath his wheels,
and the cosmic straining of the telephone wires
skimming the hot veil of the night.
When he slips between the states, I hear
his fingers scratching at old paper, and remember
the sick pink sweetness of the peaches packed in ice,
crushed together, and sloughing off acidic life
beneath the white sky that begins
with sticky Georgia orchards.
He says and this is Promontory, which
I passed through some Thursday chasing a relic
of the grand republic, where the final track was laid.
Here is Fort Sumter, in its halo of war and iron,
and here is the bloody hollow where the bear flag was raised.
Here is the fountain of youth, the gritty waters de Leon claimed,
beloved of all cruel princes, noble savages, and errant saints.
And I listen, and turn a pencil in my anxious hands,
as if it were the edge of a steering wheel.
I am pressing thumbtacks
into an atlas warped by water,
and wondering when we’ll meet again.
this land is the death-throe labor
of a groaning god.
He’s yowling from the ache that gnaws him from the marrow
and hollows out his bones his bones,
thrashing star-span arms away
from this awful need to create.
The creaking of his joints
is our distant thunder. When
he contorts his mouth, the war flags tremble
from a rage too high to hear.
Scarring prairies with the force of
his blood in downpour,
he mixes piss and seawater
to green, in the bowls of cast-off craters
and dashes them across the plain.
The sweat of his fever distills to dew.
We’re the mud-faced people he pinched
out of clay and semen,
when the pain clawed his nerves
and moved his arms to make.
Soon he’ll see my army, waiting
by the cliffsides shaped from shards of holy bone,
their mouths set tight and footsteps winding north.
They keen and swing
new sickles high, with the red roofs
of the distant palace
tonguing at the corners of their hearts.
He weeps raw-eyed to light their way,
his every tear a star.
Lucia Tang is a PhD candidate in History at UC Berkeley, where she studies premodern China. When not learning dead languages, she draws on her experience as a writer and teacher to create educational content for a publishing startup called Reedsy, for which she’s covered global magical realism and Emily Dickinson’s oeuvre. She’s currently working on a graphic design project, creating book covers for women’s dissertations from the early 20th century. Her writing has appeared in Strong Verse, Kartika Review, and Doll Hospital Journal, and her interests include indie nail polish, mid-century comedies of manners, and collegiate gymnastics— spectatorship only.