(for Emily Kendal Frey)
Emily Kendal Frey learned to drive in a cul-de-sac. Her uncle Donnie, a
former NASCAR driver, taught her when she was fifteen. He knew the
importance of turning left. And turning left. And turning left.
For each subsequent lesson, he told her to go ten miles per hour
faster. Eventually she wore a helmet and then a rubber jump suit with
decals from corporate sponsors: PetCo, Sprite, Dairy Queen, Advil. She
was going 90 miles per hour, sometimes skidding the little Dodge Dart
onto the sidewalk, ripping strips of grass and flower beds into the
air, but never hitting any of the houses. The neighbors looked out of
their windows in fear and thought about calling the police but Emily
would just smile at them and give them the thumbs up and they would
smile back and hang up the phone.
When her car broke down, her uncle Donnie showed her how to fix it.
They lied down next to each other, on the ground, underneath the car on
those little rolling mechanic dolly things, and he showed her what went
where and what needed to be replaced and what needed to be tightened.
Emily felt a Zen-like calm when she was on that dolly, and some nights
she even slept on it. Her legs would twitch in her sleep though, and
she would unwittingly scoot herself down the empty streets throughout
the night. By sunrise, she would be several blocks away, no idea how
she got there. She would pick up her dolly and carry it under her arm
like a giant skateboard and try to figure out how to get home. She had
unusual thoughts during these walks. Disjointed images and
phrases—things about dogs and tombstones and lemonade stands.
She decided to write down these thoughts but became frustrated with
them and threw them in the trash.
One day, some kids at school told her that they read her poems in the
NASCAR poetry review newsletter. She didn’t know what they
were talking about. “It must be some other Emily Kendal
Frey,” she told them.
When she got home that afternoon, her uncle gave her a hug and told her
that he had found her poems and sent them to the NASCAR magazine
himself. He had his copy opened up on the kitchen table, seven short
poems and a photo of her, leaning on the driver side of her Dart, with
her helmet on.
(for Evelyn Hampton)
Evelyn Hampton used to have a robot arm. From the years 1997 to 1999
she would rob banks with it. I’ll explain how in a minute.
But first, you must know this. She was not born with a robot arm. She
had a regular girl arm for her first crawling, toddling years. But then
there was a terrible accident involving her dad’s fancy car.
It was a DeLorean, that futuristic automobile from the 80s, with its
doors that electronically opened like metallic condor wings, preparing
for flight. Evelyn liked to open and close the doors and sneak her hand
in at the last second to get a piece of hard candy off of the floor
mat. She did this only when her dad wasn’t looking, or else
he would yell at her, “Evelyn Hampton, stop messin’
with the car doors! You’ll wear the battery out.”
But she did not listen to her father and one day she was going for a
record—ten times in a row snatching the candy. The doors
opened after that 9th time and she placed the candy back down and took
a deep breath. When the door came back down she had indeed completed
her challenge. Ten times in a row. She had beaten the machine soundly
and without breaking a sweat. She held up the candy and let out a
victory yawp. Suddenly, a deranged child mangler came out of the bushes
and hacked her arm clean off at the shoulder. Evelyn collapsed against
the car as the axe-wielding maniac ran down the street, never to be
Evelyn spent several weeks in the hospital before being released. They
fed her grapefruit and Wheat Thins and chicken strips but her arm would
not grow back like the doctor said. On Christmas morning of that year,
Evelyn awoke and found that she finally had a new arm, grown out of the
space where her old one was. But this one was metallic and heavy and
had four hands branching out of it. They seemed like angry hands,
always poking and grasping and making fists. She felt controlled by
this appendage, those cold hands and twitchy fingers. That is when her
crime spree began.
It started with simple shoplifting and pick pocketing, but then one
night she saw a late-night infomercial where a man in a lab coat said
you could buy real human female arms for three easy payments of $12,000
each. This limited time offer included an emery board for your new
fingernails and a free gold bracelet. Evelyn started robbing banks. She
enjoyed this very much, each hand holding a gun at the patrons, guards,
and tellers. She was known as the “Robot Girl
In 1999, the robot arm began to lose its aggressiveness. It started to
write poems at night while Evelyn was asleep. It tried to hide the
poems under the mattress but Evelyn found them soon enough. She felt
every cell in her body humming with recognition as she read them. She
sent them out to get published and were picked up immediately. The
poems appeared in Robot Melon, Robot Guitar, Robot Housewife, Robot
Chainsaw, and the Robot University Review of Literature.
On New Year’s Eve of 1999, the robot arm committed suicide.
By that time, Evelyn had enough money to buy the real human female arm.
When it arrived, she followed the instructions and had it working in no
time. It is a fine arm, one that looks like it’s been alive
and happy for a long time. It looks like the arm of a poet.
Papa's Coin Slot
(for Bryan Coffelt)
One time, maybe it was a couple of hours ago, Bryan Coffelt sat in his
papa’s lap and pointed to a new tattoo that he had not
noticed, one on the old man’s muscular right arm.
“What’s that, Travis?” he asked his papa.
“It’s a coin slot, son,” his pop said.
“And what happens if you put a coin in there?” the
younger Coffelt pressed.
“Give it a try,” his pop said.
Bryan smirked skeptically and held up a penny. His dad laughed and
said, “Not that. Copper will kill a geezer.”
Bryan pulled out a nickel.
“It costs more than that,” said Papa.
A sad, thin dime was pulled out.
“More,” said his dad sternly.
Bryan reached down and lifted his pant leg. He brought up a fifty-cent
piece. He kept all his big coins in his sock, where the neighborhood
bullies could not find them.
Papa smiled and closed his eyes.
The big coin went in easier than expected, with a slurping sound. Papa
let out a sigh and then waited. A faint smell of manure drifted,
wafted, fluttered, and then filled the room. A small stallion appeared
on the old man’s arm. It squirmed a bit, like it was being
born out of the man’s armpit. It slowly galloped and bucked
around his arm, like an animated cartoon. It looked crazy.
Bryan felt his face stretching into a wide smile. He told his dad that
he was going to start a new literary journal called Coin Slot Stallion
and it would be based in Moscow, Idaho. He asked his dad if he could
feed the stallion. Papa smiled and nodded toward a ziplock bag of hay.
Bryan grabbed the bag and pulled some out. He was unsure about what to
do with it.
“My mouth,” said Papa. “Put some in my
mouth. When I eat the hay the stallion will go back into the coin
Bryan fed his pop and watched his face grimace and his throat gag
several times. The stallion still danced around his arm, paying no
attention to the coin slot. “Damn that beast!” Papa
shouted as he clutched his arm, somehow trying to calm the animal.
Suddenly, a spit of blood came from the coin slot and a shrieking sound
came out of nowhere. The coin slot pulsed now, as if it were trying to
breathe around all the blood trickling out.
In just a matter of minutes, three tiny colts were born, no bigger than
spiders. They were groggy and dazed and they slid down Papa’s
arm until he held them, delicate and alive in his large hands. The
bigger stallion, still in an animated state, watched serenely from
Papa’s upper arm.
Bryan rushed out of the room to get a towel and some water for his dad.
When he returned, the stallion was gone and his dad was pale and out of
breath. The colts nuzzled quietly in his hands. Bryan leaned near his
father’s face and asked him what to do.
“Write some poetry about them,” Papa said,
“and read to them until they are grown up. Read to them like
they’re your flesh and blood.”