Lisa J. Cihlar


The spring nights are still and frozen. Dad says the smelt have yet to run up Shivering Sands Creek. There hasn't been a warm rain yet to get them started. The men of Hayes' Salvage Yard, bare armed and grease rimed hands, rove with other men in need of parts to restore this old Ford or that old Dodge. It is inborn in them to ignore the half-dozen barefoot kids running in the tall winter-faded weeds and teasing baying coonhound mutts chained to gray wood crates. Crates that held manly things, air compressors and generators, now serving as doghouses, stuffed straw winters, and blind, wriggling puppy springs.

This morning I watch Larry, who has gone to fat, and my father, search for a carburetor among rusted fenders. I used to ride school bus with him, nephew of old man Hayes, half Indian, big as thunder, crow wing hair, beautiful from lifting things. He saved me a seat one time. I was silent perched next to him.

* * *


If you knew the exact moment when the time ahead of you was equal
            to the time behind you, would you change direction? Drive west
and for every right turn make two lefts? On back roads in flat states where
         timothy grass and purple clover clot the roadsides, hang your hand
out the window, feel the slap of weeds on your palm, the occasional wetness
         from spittle bug froth? Get angry.
Tell mothers that their children are beautiful. Never tell a lie.
         Join the end of every parade you come upon. Throw candy, the good
kind that sticks in the teeth, like caramels that can be sucked for hours.
         Drink strawberry malts in small town parlors painted pink and yellow.
If you knew that you were going to die in your sleep would you buy
         new sheets, wash them every day, hang them outside to dry, perfumed
by new mown grass and west wind with rain running ahead?
         Write a confession that spills everything, lies and stealing and however
many of the seven sins you can remember, then do them over again
         to make sure you got it right the first time. Pray. Assume there is
a God. Then assume there is not. Tell a pastor that religion is the cause
         of most of the wars in the world, but forgive him. Leave offerings
in collection baskets and food pantries. Wear red panties and white
         shorts and walk with a hip sway that says fuck me. And do it in a bed,
in the woods, on a beach before a storm when waves crash louder
         than you moan and shout. Kiss your dog between the eyes. Slow
your breathing. Give everything away, crawl to the graveyard, hold up
         your arms until wrens land on your fingers, sparrows pluck your hair
to line their nests
         and make new music.


Lisa J. Cihlar's poems have been published in The South Dakota Review, Green Mountains Review, In Posse Review, Bluestem, and The Prose-Poem Project. One of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her chapbook, The Insomniac's House, is available from Dancing Girl Press and a second chapbook, This is How She Fails, is available from Crisis Chronicles Press. She lives in rural southern Wisconsin.