Somewhere the lid of a dumpster clams open,
a cataclysm of bottle glass and aluminum cans—
we are ever-so briefly sober, my brother,
blinking into graffitied alleyways and
chiaroscuro window sashes where cats sit
glass-eyed and moon-riven, gargoylesque.
Dawn comes staggering over the cityscape
as we shoulder through piss-stained alcoves
and chain fences, past greasy crates
and blankets twisted like reams of flesh
as streets thrum
and steel-jawed garbage trucks
at the stone heart
of the city.
In twenty years, I’ll wake in middle-age to the sounds
of children and kettle steam and learn that you
were still lost in those old alleyways
while Death’s Angel chased you—
maybe you grew tired of
running, my brother,
how that grave-wise
voice must have
soothed the fire in
After the drugstore vodka and dive bar jukeboxes,
cigarette cherries drowned in votive wax,
after the razored lines of Percocet on gas station toilets,
through city streets bleeding orange in the lamplight,
you totter the trash-strewn levees where hustlers
make midnight commerce on the San Lorenzo River.
Shadows gather like cutouts in a child’s diorama,
down among the stones and reeds
and broken tents
and dolls heads
and dead birds
and eddies of daffodil foam
where every so often a corpse wheels by
on abscessed arms and catches in the wax myrtles.
A needle-like rain rushes up from the bay
and you shelter beneath the footbridge
(the corroded ironwork crumbling in sea fog)
where you exchange your last twenty for a handjob
and a few hits of crystal.
Gas Station Noir
A Ford Galaxie transverses
the pump canopy,
yellow with black hardtop—
maybe she thought it was a taxi?
The driver unfolds into the fogged-out night,
uncradles the pump and hooks the filler pipe
where his face hangs
v-shaped and sinister in the chrome
—never a truer likeness.
He pays with coins from a beaded change purse
that his corpulent fingers could not have fashioned;
initials woven in a glassy mosaic that are not his own.
They belong instead
to the cold weight in the trunk,
limbs bound in a bramble of chiffon.
The Ford hooks left onto Mission,
submerges into an ocean of fog;
traffic lights signal to a dreaming city.
Yellow and black.
Yellow and black.
Next, the metronome of a motel faucet.
The smell of vinegar and butane, hot aluminum.
Dope haze specters the window as
morning arrives, stillborn and cinder-gray.
Where will we go at check-out time?
The sound of bus hydraulics on the avenue;
paper trash tumbling in the empty lot like
broken-winged gulls. Noon comes—also gray.
The manager knocks twice and rocks the doorlatch.
Night falls, the phone rings forever in its cradle.
From the bathroom, I hear Emily exhale.
She’s a million miles from San Bernardino,
a million miles from her dead-eyed stepfather
with his sweaty fingers and twelve-pack grin.
She lies in the motel tub with her arm tied off
and her lap full of drugstore cotton balls,
caught between the parentheses
of a sickle moon and the needle’s wet fang.
A slur of oaths and invective at the front door,
threats of a break-in.
Baby, it’s time to go.
C.W. Blackwell was born and raised in Northern California, where he still lives with his wife and two sons. He has been a gas station attendant, a rock musician, and a crime analyst. His passion is to blend poetic narratives and pulp dialogue to create evocative genre fiction. He writes mostly crime fiction and horror. His recent work has appeared in Pulp Modern, Shotgun Honey, Switchblade Magazine, Rock and a Hard Place Magazine, EconoClash Review, Gutter Books, and All Due Respect.