Poem: All Night Woman
Updated: May 29, 2019
All Night Woman
The midnight animals dousing themselves
Into bouts of sickness, chugging brown bags
At carnival jug tosses and radio rifle relays.
Coin-op condoms pressed between big sweating
Wads of small bills. The virgins in one booth,
One after another—each are the only virgin,
Forever and again. Toss the ring,
Shout the weight. Just something to do :
Night, fleshed out in the country.
Nothing’s as simple as seems all this grift.
Boys watching men run a slit down
A fat, gray fish. Its guts heaved into the river, after.
Whiskered water creature hung upside down,
Strung from a tree by plastic twine; laughing, men
Cut the flesh free. Loose, it seems to slide
Through dreams of larval flies in the fading sun—
The river, warm, in evening. Naked kids deep down in
The mudded current, touching up under each other,
All about their beings are the hands, hidden,
Loose in stringy water. Glister of gnats about their mouths.
They slide down to lose the bugs’ moving itch.
One girl swims naked at evening. Shirtless she slides
Up into the trees. Other nights, alone, she feels along
With her palms the carney booths’ shut steel ribs.
Her cutoffs hung deep below a long jewel
In her navel—she doesn’t know if she’ll let him in.
Her boy—as good as he is bad, stealing dad’s truck
And the gun to poach. Indifferent and scared of it,
When he’s used up the thick money gone
She knows she’ll care, and that she won’t want to.
And that she’ll want to.
I never met this woman, but I've seen her around. She's never what they say she is, and she doesn't care about any version of herself that's not of her own design or dreaming. I fear she and young men also of her ilk are disappearing along with the viability of our out-of-the-way places.
Somewhere along our warm-climate rivers and the woods that border them, somewhere in towns that have long ago lost their post offices and are just signs marking a name and a few boarded up houses—that's where the last of them can be found.
This poem came out of an ill-planned trip to Alabama. The men slitting open—flaying—the catfish, that I did see. From a distance. Large, African American men, six to eight, in a front yard in a dead town, and at at distance. Somewhere outside Tuscaloosa. It was hot, and I wasn't sure where I was headed.
Originally published, in slightly different format, in Indiana Review.