Les Kay holds a PhD from the University of Cincinnati’s Creative Writing Program. His chapbook, The Bureau, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications in 2015, and his poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Redactions, RomComPom, Apt, Really System, Toad, and elsewhere.
The Clinical Trials
Sioux Falls was a villa of ice sculptures:
We whispered to each other in puffs of smoke,
and the Spanish-speaking collie cowered
beneath the thatched roof of a doghouse
he had been building. Soon, the Bureau
reported, he would invent fire.
Seventeen months after arrival,
she began to thicken air. Tips bloomed
in her garter like carnations.
She kept company with strangers,
always checking the lay of their palms
before their palms were lain upon her.
She was given the key to the city.
The city melted into salt as black vans
gathered around the grocery stores.
Their satellite dishes sprouted like broccoli.
Soon the city was covered with vegetables.
We all lost five pounds, though
no one dreamed any longer.
Do you remember when she first arrived,
the way her hair crisped autumn air?
The Bureau should have filled the streets
with confetti then, but now she angles
for occlusion, for safety goggles,
for earplugs. Our tithes slosh onto cedar floors.
At night, whiskey thins capillaries,
we speak of children who are only sparkles,
and we invent our own fire. The Sioux Fall
documents cinder in the distance, and the scents
of our licenses shatter the shuttered windows.
I trail my fingertips beneath the straps
on her shoulders. When she stands before me,
I see, at last, that we have swallowed what
was left of hope: we have become the Bureau.
On the edge of the shantytown,
the toy factory pushes through soil,
cracking the sky with its façade.
The Day of the Dead approaches,
and we have been conscripted
to paint the tiny spleens of the GIs
that will be built here.
We have been assured things
will be better with work, but you’ve never
trusted me further than the edge
of the jungle. The howler monkeys keep us
awake all night, and we’ve taken, like the English
in Bombay, to fending off malaria with alcoholism.
The Bureau assures us this is all part
of the process; it is the natural way of things,
but sometimes when I look out the window
of my suite, I can see the shoeless boys
chattering on the diamond, rounding bases
as though the afternoon would never end,
and I think of leaving my wingtips in the room,
joining them, hitting the ball for miles into the sun.
But there are impact studies to be filed
with the authorities, bank notes
to be left in unassuming envelopes.
The houseboy speaks to me in a kind of pidgin,
polishing his English. He speaks of studying
in the U.S., of becoming a doctor,
and you suggest he practice by painting
the spleens of our fallen plastic figurines.
One day, I do not doubt, he will lose
his hand in the assembly line. The cost
will not be prohibitive, and if it becomes such,
a Junta is easy enough to arrange: all one needs
is enough unassuming envelopes.
In February, the Bureau will send Smithson,
Rimbaud, and the collie from Sioux Falls
to check our progress. It is a process after all,
and soon we will be rich, clutching
mortgage payments in unassuming envelopes
as we stumble to the corner.