sporklet 9

Jennifer L. Knox

California Hobo Insurance

contains 500,000 pages on the ineligibility
of lottery winners, but keep reading because
golden Yosemite and all its opportunities
to disappear without a trace and have your-
self declared legally dead lie on the other side
where redwoods reek of briny formaldehyde.
Everyone knows the song about John Muir
getting stuck in a tree—I sang it in grade school
and delighted in making the police car noises—
but few know in the last verse, Muir whizzed
on the cop shop lawn and they beat him until
he was brain damaged. Yeah, he was already
crazy and totally did it on purpose, nevertheless
they put a plaque with his name in the grass.
So don’t be worried about going to Yosemite
where all the people disappear. Some are
doing it on purpose.

Oh, Those Nutty Zaggers

We gave the grumpy Luddite a new ax
to guard the power cables. [Whoop!
technical difficulties: National Anthem,
Indian Head] “Welcome back,” snapped
the unwelcoming welcome wagon lady
setting up barricades, pouring concrete
abutments with the deaf dwarf director
of three-point free throws and musicals.
We asked the Human Torch to sign
the zero-hour stay of execution in wax.
“Keep it safe in your asbestos briefcase!”
we beseeched him. “Do you have any
fireworks?” he asked, totally not listening.
“Uh....................” We chose sourest flour
for the Annual Come-Together Party Cake.
Lollipops had taken over. Too many grimy
hands on a knife, too many mouths at once =
rabies, baby. The speech would have no
words—just hunches, colors and grunts.
Here’s a corny newsreel of the ‘48 Cake:
note its tiered beauty, forever giving…

Zone 9: All the Village Idiots

were gone. In every empty tent,
beds were made. In the mess hall,
plates were clean and put away
and the all cabinets filled with full
boxes of sugary cereal. “Has this
happened before?” I asked Stan.
He just shrugged, obviously disappointed.
We’d spent days preparing our speech,
charging our prods. “Someone
must’ve tipped them off,” I said.
“Or something,” Stan said, pulling
a spray bottle out of his backpack.
I hit the lights and stepped back
as he spritzed the wall and words 
arose like ghosts: WE PRETENDED
TO BE DUMB      Stan stared at it
awhile. “Do you know how to read?” 

“No, but you gotta love that Luminol.”
King Country

His hands tremble as he ashes
out the cracked window, breaking
75 on hairpin two-lane blacktop
lined with billboards facing
backwards on both sides.
What kind of gaff is that?
Or are all the signs addressing
some eye we can’t see
atop one these of little gray hills?
A security cam on a grain silo?
The bare squat trees along the Big Sioux
look like smoke, but the air reeks
of ice cream. We pass his old house.
“They let it go to hell!” he haws and guns it.
Next time, we should check out the Loess Hills.
Here and China are the only places we’ll ever
see something like that. Real pretty.
“We’ll see you in June then,”
we say when he drops us off.
“If I live that long!” he coughs
and peels out. Across from hills of sand
dragged from the river and bound
in orange plastic nets, the blinking casino looks
like a giant squid signaling something that's
sure as hell’s not us—and that two-step bar
behind the casino’s fake. I can’t
prove it. I just know.

Jack London versus Huey P. Long

Through his gold abalone shell binoculars,
Jack watches Huey scramble down the top
wall of the terraced vineyard, built in the style
of Japanese rice paddies he’d observed hunting
rare dwarf bears there. The whole mountain
took fifty men and a million clams to complete—
‘twas worth every penny, every smudged-ink stroke
in his ledger, Jack thinks as he watches Huey trip
and roll down a hill the color of caramel, ripping
out vines with the shotgun he’s waving like a crutch.
Jack chortles and accidentally swallows the opium
lozenge under his tongue. Jack knows by their
circling, the invigorating woosh of wing-stirred air
rolling over his face, buzzards have spotted Huey
spinning on his back like a turtle, his white suit now
dirt- and horse poop-covered. Ravens’ll come next—
they need help opening the can. “Jack!” his wife
calls from the driver’s seat of an idling tractor—
the most expensive tractor in the world!
“How’d you get it running?” he asks.
“I took off my shirt and killed a man,”
she replies with a hard-eyed shrug. Jack saw
opportunities taking shape in the endless fog
of her otherness, like a lasso deftly twirled.

Jennifer L. Knox is the author of four books of poems. Her work has appeared four times in The Best American Poetry series as well as in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and American Poetry Review. The Los Angeles Book Review said of her most recent book, Days of Shame & Failure, “This panopoly of twenty-first century American human experience leaves the reader a different person.” She teaches at Iowa State University and is currently at work on a culinary memoir.