Heat Stroke in Redding
We’ve been without water for fifteen hours.
Parked in a yard with the patient rotation of sun
moving over our packs. No shade. Nothing but
scrub-brush and white rocks dotting the tracks.
Small birds hopping from train car to train car,
searching the Hanjin containers for grain.
We breathe slow, intentional breaths. Huddle
our backs in the foot-wide shadow this rusty
container wall casts. Propping our heads up.
Wetting our hair with the rainwater left in
a heat-warped bottle of Sprite. Neither of us
can believe we are fading. Stars in our eyes
and the constant humidity. Stuttering. Slurring
our S’s and T’s. He says he remembers a time
we were kids. Seven or eight then, sleeping in
bunk beds. One of us waking up sick in the night
from a potluck dinner at church. Throwing up
over the other one’s head. How Mom wouldn’t
tell us which one it had been. How she only just
smiled and let us imagine the victim was always
ourselves. Left to the other one’s poor choice
of meatloaf. The one chicken nugget gone bad.
We laugh. I offer the sleeve of the rainwater t-shirt.
Run it across his burned lips, the scab that’s
beginning to crack. We say we can make it
a few more hours. We need to keep talking,
telling the stories that make us remember, lead us
away from the walls of the car. I say if he
passes out first I will carry him. Over the rocks
and fields of bleached earth. Over the walnut
groves covered in lime. You’ll carry me? he says,
smiling a little. He flexes his arm so the blood
will move faster. He promises me the same.
Copyright © 2018 by Kai Carlson-Wee
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Kai Carlson-Wee is the author of Rail (BOA Editions, 2018). His work has appeared in Ploughshares, Best New Poets, New England Review, The Southern Review, and The Missouri Review, which awarded him the 2013 Editors Prize. His photography has been featured in Narrative Magazine and his poetry film, Riding the Highline, has screened at film festivals across the country. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, he lives in San Francisco and teaches poetry at Stanford University.
Michigan Quarterly Review is an eclectic interdisciplinary journal of arts and culture that seeks to combine the best of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction with outstanding critical essays on literary, cultural, social, and political matters. The flagship journal of the University of Michigan, MQR draws on lively minds here and elsewhere, seeking to present accessible work of all varieties for sophisticated readers from within and without the academy.
In addition to choice creative work, we publish special issues dedicated to timely themes, such as Vietnam: Beyond the Frame and Bookishness: The New Fate of Reading in the Digital Age, and special clusters of essays on individual topics, like Motown, Politics and Detroit, or the Age of Obama. MQR has published work by Margaret Atwood, Juan Cole, Robert Coles, Carol Gilligan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alan Liu, Barry Lopez, Czeslaw Milosz, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Rorty, Eric J. Sundquist, John Updike, William Julius Wilson, and other authorities in their fields.