Valerie Nieman’s work has appeared in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Arts & Letters, and Blackbird. Her books include a poetry collection, Wake Wake Wake, a short fiction collection, and two novels. She has won an NEA fellowship, two Elizabeth Simpson Smith prizes and the Greg Grummer Prize. A graduate of West Virginia University and Queens University of Charlotte, she teaches writing at North Carolina A&T State University.
Gray skies predicate
cotton ball air, damp smother – still,
wind enough to fold a wet flag like funeral hands.
Jack Tells About His First
Yellow ‘66 Pontiac GTO
close-ratio four-speed Hurst shifter.
4:11 rear end.
that’s what they called it, fly yellow,
with a black vinyl interior.
Had an eight-track
with a reverb unit –
the back speakers were delayed
about a quarter second from the front,
made it sound like a concert hall
that’s what reverb was.
Cragar mags and cheater slicks
Just a tad of tread, but really a slick
for running on the drag strip.
Turn a quarter mile in 11 seconds
off the showroom floor.
Thirty-six-sixty sticker, even.
Took premium gas, quarter a gallon,
got 10 miles per.
At 70 mph it would run 4000 rpms
When we drove to Myrtle Beach
we had to stop and let it cool off.
First car I ever made love in.
It was a chunk of car.
One of Those Days
Money, or need, or both
kept them under the same roof,
the gray lid on a white house
overlooking the beautiful
Ohio in constant motion, current one way,
barges cutting a wake the other.
Most days he sat by the river
in a beach chair, staring
straight to the West Virginia side,
his old ears getting bigger, as they will,
tows of combustibles pushing
across his line of sight.
October, November, some one
of those days, his voice, her voice,
like the stop light cycling on the corner;
none of the neighbors noticed anything.
Bottled gas, maybe, or gasoline.
That sound just before the four walls
separated, the roof going straight up,
quite a sight there on Main Street,
roof on fire, lifting,
turning a bit north-northwest
as it fell back, the bodies
found later that day, under it.