This week’s poem from Slate is entitled The Gospel According to Kelly, Night-Shift Manager, Forest City Fuel & Foods, and was written by Joe Wilkins. The author of this intriguing poem has a memoir that is soon to be released, The Mountain, The Fathers. Wilkins has also written several collections of poetry, including Note from the Journey Westward, winner of the 17th Annual White Pine Press Prize in Poetry, and Killing the Murnion Dogs.
Wilkins has won awards such as the Obsidian Prize for Nonfiction, the Obsidian Prize for Fiction, the Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers, Memoir (and)’s Grand Prize for Memoir, Boulevard magazine’s Emerging Poets Contest, and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Currently, Wilkins teaches writing at Waldorf College. Without further ado, here is his poem.
When you come, with your hunger, I will fill you—
tier upon tier of bubble gum & breath mints & sour balls,
stacks of months-old white bread, slick packages of bologna,
sweet pickles & okra pickles & the pickled underlips of pigs,
all manner of potted meats & yellowed salad dressing & the hen
long ago unhinged & shellacked & frozen & just this morning
tossed & fried in a goodly amount of brown grease
& all these hours later deepening in flavor & tang
beneath the buttery light of a heat lamp for you, for you.
When you come, with your thirst, I will slake you—
in cloudy plastic bottles the generic blue juice that stains
alike the round mouths of babes & derelicts, the tall cans
of caffeinated syrup sucked down by bony, acned boys,
whose necks hitch & chuckle & shake, who wipe wet mouths
on shirtsleeves, who pay with bills rumpled in warm palms
& stink of river mud & yeast, who in a few short years will rise
& in dark fits of themselves wander the wine aisle
& pour down those same hitching throats squat bottles
of Mad Dog, & so those Friday evenings, when boys wander
& itch & lick their chapped lips, they will find chocolate milk
is on sale, & Gatorade, & Mountain Dew, & the strange
electric blue juice they drank when they were not boys
but boys, & for you, all of this is for you. When you come,
the teeth of late winter gnashing at your fat heart’s flesh—
I will pile high & higher the boxes of glazed chocolate donuts,
deftly heft the half-rack of High Life, the Bic & cigarettes,
& turn, as you ask me to turn, & unlock the glass case,
for I do not understand but understand this night you need
a jackknife, a box of condoms, No Doz, Nyquil—I will,
& without slinging a single word, ring up each item
& place each in a small, white sack & bless & bless
these hungers, these throat-wracking thirsts—like hope
they are what we have, & here in the far corner of the night,
among the bean-rusted fields & gutted factories of the Midwest—
what else do we have? Stranger, a scuff of light shatters
the linoleum, let me lay my hand a moment in yours,
count out for you these few coins.
Because of the format, I was unable to copy and past the quotes preceding this poem. To see them — and to hear Wilkins read his poem — check out the original on Slate’s arts page.
— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan