Barlow Adams is the author of two novellas and an upcoming novel.
His most recent publications include pieces at or upcoming in
formercactus, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, The Disappointed
Housewife, The Molotov Cocktail, Ghost Parachute, Riggwelter Press,
Delphinium, Five on the Fifth, and Finishing Line Press. Follow him
on Twitter @BarlowAdams.
Room to Wait
Did you know it's not that you have dearer things to do
That makes the wait for the doctor so long?
It's not the dry cough or the deep chest burble.
Not the greyhound leaping of the minute hand
Stretching to each tick in the silent spaces between breath in and out.
It's not even Doctor Phil's Texas baritone pulled out to a mosquito whine
Through the holes of the TV speakers:
Telling you, "You teach people how to treat you."
It's the smell of the carpet.
Did you know nobody installs it?
No one buys it, cuts it, stretches it.
No crazed man hawks it in a grainy commercial you can't see
More than twenty miles out of town.
It just begins to sprout there,
Anywhere it can get purchase over beige linoleum tiles
Anywhere it's nourished by a steady rain of squeezed tears and nervous sweat
Lit by the glares of florescent lights off the plastic faces of clocks.
Its spores spread by the sweeping looks from watch to window
From closed door to Family Circle.
If we knew enough to harvest it
To chop and grind and burn,
To denature it in alcohol pooled in Erlenmeyer flasks
To give it a whiff of sci-fi ozone under the sparks of Jacob's Ladder
There, in the silent spaces between the theremin's baritone and its whine,
Would be the answer to the question
"How much time do I have?"
Hold that strange hour-stretching scent in every bronchial cell.
I don't know enough yet, but I am learning.
I am learning how to treat me
How to treat the heat I leave on the upholstery when I'm gone.
My Inauthentic Love
I told Maria,
you haven't had Mexican food
until you've had Fiesta Vaquero
They have the real chimichangas,
with the good guac and the shredded beef inside,
no hamburger bullshit,
no Tex-Mex lies.
She crinkled her nose at the pico de gallo,
barely touched her refried beans.
I called the waiter with a snap of my fingers.
Maria complained in Spanish.
I wanted to paint her like the Madonna, hang her on my wall.
I asked her if the food was authentic.
Cerca, pero no lo suficiente.
She said it meant "close enough."
Afterward, we listened to Warren Zevon.
I sang her Carmelita while we got high in my car.
I asked if it was true what they said about Latina girls;
asked her to come home with me when the semester was over.
My mama made an enchilada casserole,
muy picante. But Maria never showed.
I told Maria on the phone,
I would have learned Spanish for you.
She said there were no chimichangas in Mexico,
no garlic in rooster beaks,
and everything I'd heard about Latina girls was completely true,
but I'd never find out.
I asked if she ever really loved me?
Cerca, pero no lo suficiente.
Son of Adam
My father became a priest
when he couldn't be a god
He became a man
when he couldn't be a priest
Bore me after like a cross
around his neck, dangling
under where his white collar turned blue
He taught me
that cleanliness was next to godliness
that the Bible Belt swung
next to the Sunday face he hung in his closet
He taught me
Heaven was a state of mind
That hell was real
He'd go out on good Fridays,
Down to where the lights flooded the city
like a Red Sea, licking his fingers
as he made the sign of the cross
Looking for lost souls
To fill with his blessing
and anoint with his oil
he'd come home and find me
worshiping silicon idols
and send me to my desert
after laying wrath on me
for spilling that sacred seed
into barren ground
Cry Like a Pedal Steel
Rose entered the world weighing eleven pounds and owing
$750 of past-due medical debt, heir to six generations of unbroken poverty,
born not like a flower into a promised garden, but clawing
her way out of the meconium like a weed
pushing its way up through the mud.
Before the doctor could toss the afterbirth,
red and thick as freezer jam,
her kin were through the door, dividing her up like rotisserie chicken.
Daddy named the baby a thief for stealing his eyes
Mama warned my overwhelmed wife to be careful
of the heartburn hair the baby shared with my brother. Cousin Josie's ears listened
as Uncle Jesse's chin got out on parole two years early
Just a quivering
But before anyone could comment on her long, thin bango fingers
or remark about how she had grandma's fat, wide feet,
Rose opened up her borrowed mouth,
tuned up a cry like a pedal steel,
and let loose a wail somewhere between a freight train and a whippoorwill,
tin-eared and long as a country mile.
Even grandpa, who'd lost half his hearing to an M2 mortar,
couldn't say he'd ever heard its like.
Back to Front.