Lisa Lewis

Parking Lot Allegory

As a partridge that broods but does not hatch,
So is he who gets riches, but not by right;
It will leave him in the midst of his days,
And at his end he will be a fool.

Jeremiah 17:10-11

The woman I know who was stabbed in the neck
said it happened in a parking garage. Ten ramps up,
maybe, it’s easy to lose count in those things
chasing space. Which is what the architects
did when they planned the new building
for the business college, its unglassed frame
now swelling over what used to be the parking lot
for people who don’t work there and people
who do: unfinished, it’s a cruise ship unloading
ghosts, and in the design sketch, ghosts pace
clipped grass sown and watered where cars
once clicked like time bombs, about to blow
for the sake of still life, a genre, prior to
the eighteenth century, primarily concerned
with religion and allegory. I have never had
a direct encounter with the divine, but if I do
it will happen here, on the hottest day
of the decade, 115 in the shade and a storm
clashing cymbals above the neighborhood
restaurants’ No Parking signs and the art
students’ dried flowers whirling in a cone
like a woodpecker. I have also never admitted
I am likely to die in Oklahoma from living here
too long, and if I think of it I think like a partridge,
a dead one hung on a nail for a painting, or the first
partridge, the nephew of Daedalus, flung in rage
from the hill of Athena, and I have hoarded rage
in my barred feathers like the lines of cars
in a garage where a would-be killer slips
between shadows preparing to ambush his victim,
who will not recover into fullness again
but will retreat from what she knew without thinking,
the walks, the dancing, the long or short flights
like any bird’s imbued with the glancing flavor
of impure air that nonetheless does not destroy.
The partridge is not a beautiful bird, and the grass
where the workers used to park their cars is falling
down on the job itself, or will be, that day of heat
and blood and the smell of god like toasted sugar,
the sprinklers twirling elixirs madly and the president
of the university wandering the maze his wife
had built because she loves beauty and the mystery
of beauty, she even loves the mystery of ghosts,
and he wonders if he might dine on partridge.
His wife will know how to render its breast,
but the partridge is impure and lustful, unfit
for the tongue of the religious even if his prayers
are heard only by donors who admire the endeavors
of the business college and take as their doctrine
its longing to rise above the prairie and the ghosts
as if also wingéd and holy, soaring unlike the sexual
partridge, described in the medieval bestiary
lying on its back, covering its eggs with dust.
The partridges native to Oklahoma include pheasant,
sage-grouse, prairie chicken, and, notably, wild turkey.
Sometimes they barge right into town, groups in single
file, large enough no unarmed human interferes,
but they possess no riches. Their dull brown feathers
dangling, they seem to have brooded not at all.
Yet next year, like every year, there will be more,
pacing out fledged measurements, and us
behind them with our empty bags and long walks
to the nearest bus stop and then the necessary,
humiliating, noxious ride to wherever we almost live
and work to afford and there are shadows
we hardly get the chance to know before
someone rises from the gray with a blade.

in the eyes of the watcher

I missed her when I went looking
night out, aftermath of lightning
night out, aftermath of lead poisoning
night out, no aftermath
four kids staring out car windows, cardinal directions
big kids who wanted to keep going
big kids who thought they’d stay the same
you could break open a fig and watch ants run everywhere
when I was a girl spying the fig tree spread its wings
I never approached the circle of dancers
why do I find no trace of the broken watch
taken apart with care to locate the pace of the gear and the grind
no reflection of the face known not to echo the shape of the void
she never spoke and I never heard her
she had nothing but figs and salt
didn’t mix them didn’t season the flavor
she wanted to go for a long ride
she wanted things different on return
no octagon of warning
no crumpled collie body in the highway
no blame for leaving early and not looking backwards when he
followed
the passenger in the car, male, hazel eyes
in search of additional softness she groped inside her open jaw
she stuck a finger in there and found a lump in her throat
nobody came back and they were supposed to
according to whomever was watching and making rules for watching
she only thought why not why not why not
she tattled like that so long it went straight to the crying
nothing could sink against the rough grains
as if to the bottom of a bathtub full of hair
the bottom of a body touched and touched again
intent to harm stashed in its rag sock
like a smell or an egg or a hand or a throat
a voice stuck in a trumpet or a broken harp
a voice that spoke fast so it wouldn’t have to hear
it’s still not finished and doesn’t sound right
that echo as if air entered the right ear
and words came out the painted side of the world
where the same old woman who runs hard down my block
leading her dead collie and sometimes a dun pony
strains to recall and put them in order
her face records the changes as curves
the highway grows a new leg after every bend
when she turns the corner she is shouting

Candle

I’ve been trying to explain how light is like a building.
I don’t sashay the mortar of sunlight into road cracks
so driving is driving blind. All I know is the world
is on the other side and I need a ride, will you take me?
Everything bends inside your sunglasses, your face
doing honors where I can see it and praise it, and we warp
in the direction of broken bridges and cattle-backs
drenched in dew. But first we scale a precipice of light
flinching at the raised hand of gleam. Light like a door
in light, bleaching gold from alchemy of light, separating
yolk of light’s yellow. The climb leans slow so at first
we don’t feel our ears filling with light, then it’s all
we can hear, a question, a book of questions, a book
of intrigue shining down on a book of boredom, workmen
strapping belts of light to their waists and scaling trees
of light. You turn on the radio to drown or distract
and the stretched skin of light on the high plains streams
flux from the speakers. Another skyscraper, wrong for this
landscape but proud in horizon light. Another fusty
warehouse of light. A skating rink darting with lost beams,
twirling skirts of light. I drew up shades and was glad
to trace burning on the taut glass. I remember tips of late
sunset tossing weed-heads, drawing out tongues.
We’re going to make it to the mountain tonight, if what
we see is mountain. Whoever glances in the mirror
sees everything we flattened half-alive like grass rippled
by wind, like what people say they want but if they found
a window at the end of a hall they’d stare out at the air
full of threats that can’t get in buoyed by brightness.
They’re locked in the building, invisible too, and we’re
on our way up the staircase, remembering when it was only
a highway, and the fire we understand is carrying out orders
was a dab of paint on canvas, an overexposure, not hands
on the railing, explosion, darkness, later a healing scar.

Lisa Lewis has published six books of poetry, most recently The Body Double (Georgetown Review Press, 2016) and Taxonomy of the Missing (The Word Works, 2018). Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, New England Review, South Dakota Review, Diode, Interim, Laurel Review, and elsewhere. She directs the creative writing program at Oklahoma State University and serves as editor of the Cimarron Review.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis (susanlewis.net) is the editor of Posit (positjournal.com) and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom, winner of the 2017 Washington Prize, Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in such places as The Awl, Berkeley Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Cimarron, Gargoyle, The Journal, New American Writing, The New Orleans Review, Prelude, Raritan, Seneca Review, So to Speak, Verse, Verse Daily, and VOLT.