by Zoe Elisabeth
Runestone, volume 10
By now everything feels ugly. Under spoiled light, the dash lines
form gross patterns on the concrete; they snake across my skin
& up my leg,
diseased. White line fever in my drifting eyes
& body aches, the incurable roll of truck tires, declarations
of ONLY BELIEVERS WILL SURVIVE
& WIDE RIGHT TURNS.
State lines that blur & disappear, a ricochet of Welcome!
& nothing beyond each border but roadkill & wilted grass.
Every roadside infested with billboards— white-teeth attorneys
with block-letter promises, sex clubs smeared in silhouettes
& worn innuendo. Pay us for your pains, your lukewarm desires.
Out here the fields all smell like cow shit & my teeth mold
gas station candy into cavities, another sunken town a flare-up
of strip mall & drive-thru & red-yellow logos.
You don’t have to look close
to watch them peel.
For nights on end, the same prognosis:
The same Styrofoam balanced on drowsy thighs, $4 chicken
bulging with fat, engine idling while I gag instead of swallow.
The sluggish rise of another elevator. The same dingy
shower water, soap squeezed runny into palms, all grease
& lather & the proliferation of taint. How I forget each thought
right after it touches me, & how morning touches night,
& my body blurred into the water. Slit-open suitcase—
clothes spilling like entrails. The same skirt tugged up
over my hips. Stains I’ll never scrub out. & later,
surges of nausea in hotel heat, the same flat pillows reeking
of cigarettes & bleach. These muffled intrusions—
arguments that leak through walls
& flush across my face. Once I would’ve invented
backstories for the faceless screech. Delusions clinging
to my wishful skin, my lusts & hatreds lost in theirs.
Now I only stick to myself—
my clothes to my skin, my hair to my neck.
& then I wake up dead,
in another stew of shapeless night, blackout curtains drawn
across daylight & the air carrying the usual— some barbecue,
some slaughter, some billboard persuasions to CHOOSE LIFE.
They say you can find God out here if you look hard enough,
or dial the right number. One morning I leave a message,
asking, If I’m here for a reason, what is it?
Like my earlier devotion. Sicknesses still palliated by prayer
& engine rumble. Back then, prophecies bloomed
in every clear white line, in the red-scorch summer leather,
asphalt’s sudden crackle. Back then I scraped faith
from undialed numbers on truck doors, the radio chanting—
Possible, possible, tires ground in lush harmony,
& when I listened closer, my heartbeat ringing clear
within it. Every highway channel suffused
with its own brand of holiness. Every shout still met
with an echo.
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Sarah Lawrence College.
ZOE ELISABETH is a poet from Washington, DC and a senior at Sarah Lawrence College. She has previously been published in literary journals such as Kissing Dynamite, Caesura, Rust + Moth and Counterclock under the name Zoe Cunniffe, and her work has been nominated for Best of the Net. She is also the Senior Editor of Thrush Poetry Journal. Zoe can be found on Instagram at @makeshiftparadises.