“Cumberland Gap” by Steve Westbrook

Steve Westbrook


At a rest stop where Kentucky almost bleeds
into two other states, a man is wearing overalls

and sunlight. He says the river here reversed
directions, dried up, then turned into a trail

full of saltlicks and axmen who were
always carrying canteens, hurrying

to someplace else, telling their tales of
tiny fishes that could swim up streams

of urine to invade the penises of anyone
who might be innocently peeing from a riverbank.

Elsewhere, pelicans are imitating bombs,
or bombs are imitating pelicans. Imagine:

someone’s job was selling drugs to Elvis,
and someone else’s job was cleaning up

the vomit of the King, and over there,
9,000 feet above the earth, the Flying Elvi

practice jumping out of planes, gyrating heartbreakers
in sequined parachutes. Now everyone

is elbowing for space or sleeping in the middle
of the highway while some locals mine for coal

inside an asteroid scar on pocked-marked earth
and dream of other asteroid scars where more

and better coal might just appear like fireworks,
black carbon snakes coiling inside some cosmic

residue; on the other side of this old tributary—
beyond the urge to writhe around or rise above

a wall of peaks—is still another unseen
landscape, the not here of a distant place,

where all your present and your future
exes might be playing harmonicas or dancing

with their hands behind their backs, holding
machetes, their mouths completely filled

with fuzzy music or their mouths deliciously
anticipating vengeance, and all your former

and your future selves might be there too,
like siblings aiming their camcorders

or pistols at you, asking what the difference is
between home movies, propaganda films,

and snuff pornography, and why
you think you’re so much better off

than they were then or will be soon,
and at that moment, as the land is widening,

you may envy mountains for their grand tectonic
accidents, their lack of consciousness:

from Middlesboro Crater, childhood could be
an asteroid hurtling through space.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010

Rattle Logo