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I once got talking to a girl on a bus.
Her father had worked for the US Air Force.
She said it had been to do with black shit and stuff.
We had both of us boarded at Corpus Christi.
I had noticed her hair, it was like my own.
From a wide centre parting it fell to no purpose.

She may never have washed it but combed it
till her scalp bled with the kind of comb
in which every other tooth has been broken but one
and which had once been the only thing of value found
on the body of a great-great-great-grandfather
killed fighting on the Yankee side at the battle of Gettysburg.

We could've been twins, we were kind of androgynous.
She talked about growing up, how she'd dropped out of college.
At Laredo two officers boarded the bus.
They checked everyone's papers, everyone but us.
I think I must have mouthed, We're invisible!
because she turned away and stared at her reflection in the glass.

We were falling asleep, that much was obvious
yet every now and then the conversation kind of twitched
and when she said she'd read a book about spontaneous combustion
it was as if our souls were suddenly rubbing
like two still green sappy sticks together
in the hope that we might set ourselves blazing—

we were both of us certainly thin enough!—
and so leave on our seats—their vinyl backs a melted mess—
the ash of our flesh, the little pile of mingled bones,
partly powder where they touch, our skulls
split open down the middle—and become, as it were,
a crime scene, reported by the driver on arrival in Phoenix

where the photograph taken by forensics
would have found its way somehow into the hands of the press—
cold-eyed men who had seen a lot worse
and who would to be honest have all but ignored it
if it hadn't been for the National Enquirer
whose editor would have hollered, Hold the front page!

and shifted an account, complete with pictures,
of two unidentified elongated objects
travelling at a speed described by the guy
who'd just happened to be out there photographing cacti
as hyperfreakin retinal dude, across each blown-up's
chromatic vibrations, to that week's centre spread.

Andrew Elliott

Mortality Rate
CB Editions

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