“Culvert” by Matt Sumpter

09 February 2017 on Poetry   Tags: , ,

I loved the toxic run-off, tentacles
of algae, and corrugated zinc
that tripped me as I hunched
in the culvert, following
Will Macon’s echoing hard steps,
listening to loaded pick-ups
hammer overhead. All afternoon
we’d spit tobacco juice, damn God,
light firecrackers then watch
the wick thrash in our hands.
Darkness was our gift: him shrieking
curses through a manhole cover
as phosphenes gathered into faces,
words I could almost read. Years later,
Will blew open a friend’s cheek
with a paintball gun, T-boned
a mini-van while pulling
vodka from a plastic jug.
I stayed inside, but even now,
I close my eyes and listen to my fingers’
distant traffic on the laptop keys.
In the culvert, Will would whisper
Move your ass, and stomp off
to a different haunt. I would
hesitate, as I do now, waiting
for the tapping keys to sound
like words, for oblivion,
almost meaningful, to let me in.


Matt Sumpter's poems have appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The New Republic, and Best New Poets 2014, and his fiction is forthcoming in Glimmer Train. His first collection, Public Land (University of Tampa Press, Forthcoming 2017), won the Anita Claire Scharf Prize. A graduate of the PhD program in Creative Writing at Binghamton University and the MFA program at Ohio State University, he is the Lead Narrative Designer on the immersive exercise app for iOS: MarchQuest.

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