Kai Carlson-Wee

The Cloudmaker’s Key

We lean to the firelight licking the river.
Crows Point. Two miles west of the Burlington yard.
Slumped on the pallets and scag-water mattresses,
needling crawfish heads to a hook. This life, he tells me,
is one of those fake plastic rocks in the garden
you break with a hammer to get out
the key. Meaning, when he was younger
his dad used to lock all the doors, made him sleep
in the fort at the neighboring farm. Meaning,
once, he dismembered a pipe-trapped squirrel,
made slope of the tail and tasted
the brain. Meaning, even the soul has a definite shape,
or a way of removing itself from the world.
And beneath him the dirt split to welcome
the flames. And above him the stars
became haloed in pulses, these circular rainbows
he thought he could touch. And at one point
the over-bright sheen in his eyes
went flat as the sewer-drain walled with graffiti signs,
oversized penises skewering dragons, a carpet
of dead carp, bullet-shells, double A batteries
strung onto wires like beads. And into that darkness,
sidling forward in drowned undulations,
extending his arms to the trees like an eagle,
the bones of some unknown animal sharpened,
firelight catching the rail-thin knife—
We enter the tubes of this goldmine, he tells me.
We enter this darkness alone.

Kai Carlson-Wee’s work has appeared in Best New Poets, Narrative, and Missouri Review. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, he lives in San Francisco, CA, and is a Jones Lecturer in poetry at Stanford University.