2012-2013 Online Edition - POETRY

At the Bottom of Night

By Jason Mclaughlin

At the bottom of night,
only the light pulsing
from Paradise Island
across the brackish lagoon
matters. The puddles
of orange and blue
on the southern-side streets
are merely archipelagoes
of exposure, laying bare
the lives which scurry
around in the dark.
Between these pools,
the looming shadow
of the cross melts
into the natural shadow
of the alleyway,
and a man can remember
that there are teeth
behind every kiss
and fangs set
in every smile.
A gull cries
and the wind whispers
and a woman screams.
Headlights slice
through the dark
and remove her
from the blanket
of nighttime
she’d bundled herself in,
painting her chiaroscuro
and kneeling over a gutter,
clutching at a vacancy
on her side.

At the bottom of night,
moving closer to the glaring
lights of the resort, the big
bridge sways under the gentle
strain of traffic, citizens moving
across the raised isthmus
to the isle of secure employment.
In the water below,
a fish bobs belly up,
lapping softly against
the concrete legs
of the tall road,
bladder poking from its gut,
tugging it toward the underside
of the street above. Thin
monofilament drifts
from its throat,
a lead egg stuffed
in its lips like an apple.
A crab scuttles over
the highway’s barnacled
stilts and boards
the floating carcass,
picking tidily at its new
vessel, combing tidbits
of flesh into its mouth.

At the bottom of night,
where it is proverbially
the darkest, the casino
lights swell over
the shadow across
the bridge. It is a Cay
of its own, the bejeweled
and sparkling crown
bestowed upon the rotted
remainder of the capitol
island.  The rainbow
has been unwoven
and retied into ropes
of neon specificity,
braided and cocooned
inside letter-shaped vials
and zigzagged mimicry
of what a lightning bolt
can do in sand.
The confetti carpets
support felted mesas,
enclosed by a clear coliseum
of fake aquatic habitat
framed by Phoenician-themed
plaster carvings. A gathering
of gods ignores these
decorations, their aesthetics
preferring instead the rolling
discs chipping away
at the small stack of debt
fluttering over each
of their shoulders.

At the bottom of night,
further away, the island’s
shimmering palace fades
away, the jingling
and honking
and crying
of the island gone.
The cosmos churns above,
the scattered pinholes
clustering along
the backbone of night,
splayed out over
the reflecting Atlantic. 
The cries of the gulls
soon fall back as well,
and shortly nothing
remains but the blacktop
of the ocean, rippling
with the whispering wind.
To the east, a beam
of sunlight slowly cuts
its way over the curve
of the globe, pressing
itself to the throat of night.

On the Perimeter of an Appalachian Town

By Jason Mclaughlin

I walk past a man
whose beard crowns
the summit of his torso,
worried denim chafing
the grit of a cement ledge.
I reach for the door,
his face following me
with the starlit weariness
of a solitary sunflower.

The steel grip arcs out
at my knuckles as another
man makes his way
from the air-conditioning,
fist full of purple and green
wax-coated lottery ticket.
He lurches into the rusted
cab of his pickup, squealing
open a door to fumble for
an until now neglected nickel.

I’m not halfway to the counter
before he transforms the double
doors into a rotator, scratching
off just enough to play again.
He compliments the girl over
the customer gulf with an earnest
smile, teeth silently envious of
the even white rows of Marlboros
that hung above them both.

I drop a twenty on the chipped
glossy wood, spitting out a pump
number in place of feigned
hospitality. Her eyelids bite
a brief smile as she reaches out
for the ghost of Andrew Jackson.
The name Alonso is scribbled
in permanence across the softer
flesh of her forearm.

I return to my car, the bearded
man sidling alongside me. As
he passes, I notice him gripping
forty ounces of brown paper bag,
a loose fist clutching it like the reigns
of a single forlorn leopard.