Nuclear DeSoto

1. Smat the First (Bloody Knuckles)

I sat fist to fist with Smat
in the dark maw
of Daddy’s DeSoto trunk.
Our knuckles were locked and grooved,
ready to strike or fly.
He said: “Hey, Spleen,
what do you wanna be when you grow up?”
And then he struck,
his knuckles slipping free
and descending like four
little ball-peens onto mine.
I sucked the blood off,
matched fists again
and asked him what he wanted to be.
He said: “I’m gonna be a bank robber.”
Then he nailed me a nasty one.
“I’m going to be a shut-in,” I said.

 
2. Primary Mumsel

I sat inside the DeSoto
with the radio on,
pretending to drive.
Frankie Laine crooned,
and Mumsel stood in the field
painting a mushroom cloud
on a canvas.
The breeze blew blonde
curls about her neck
as she daubed
the small smears of color:
cirrhosis yellow
tumor blue,
scarlet murder.

 
3. Daddy One

I heard Daddy prowling
around the DeSoto, so I ducked down
with my Tarzan books and Cracker Jacks.
When the door swung open
it felt like someone sucked me
through a straw.
Daddy was there in shirtsleeves and suspenders,
wobblingly drunk on word flow,
ripe with the scent of lexicons and thesauri.
He gargled an advertising slogan in his throat
and rapidly disgorged it:
“It’sdelightfulit’sdelovelyit’sDesoto!
That’s how they sell cars these days!”
Then he kicked the door shut
and staggered off into the grassy field.

 
4. Initial Ammo

Darkness entered the DeSoto
like a sleek bullet
and I shuddered under the afghan,
green with radio glow.
Outside, Ammo walked through the hung sheets.
They undulated in the wind
like pallid ghosts.
Suddenly a pistol shot rang out.
A woman screamed
and gurgled death in my ear.
I turned off the radio show
and pulled the afghan up to my nose.
Ammo embraced a sheet,
yanked it off the line,
and gathered it to her breast in swift folds.

 
5. First Spleen (Me)

I liked the DeSoto because it never moved.
Daddy said that was ironic
because the car’s namesake, Hernando de Soto,
was always on the move.
When he died, they dumped him in the Mississippi,
and he just kept rolling along.
Daddy loved that old DeSoto
and couldn’t bring himself to scrap it.
He liked to say he came up with many
a quip in this old equipage, like his remark
about me that I was born in the double state
of Ohio and permanent lethargy,
which meant I was going
inevitably and directly
nowhere.

 
6. Secondary Mumsel

I laid my baseball cards in a grid
on the hood of the DeSoto,
and was reading the back
of Bob Feller when Mumsel appeared,
walking softly across the field,
holding the hem of her gauzy dress high.
She curled my collar
between her fingers, and said:
“My sullen and bashful boy.”
When she was gone
I felt something hit the back of my neck,
and turned to find a flurry
of baseball cards
blowing wildly in the wind.

 
7. Smat the Second

1949. The summer of South Pacific.
Perry Como was singing
“Some Enchanted Evening” on the radio
when Smat showed up.
He had two bottles of Roma wine
and a big grin.
I rolled a crack in the Desoto’s window.
He put his mouth in and said:
“Shake a leg. I got two girls
down at the tire swing.”
I played with the gearshift.
“And these babies,” he said, clinking
the bottles against the glass.
“Naw,” I said. “I’m tired.”
“C’mon,” he said. “There’s nothin’ like a dame.”
“Naw.”
“You ruin everything,” he said,
receding backwards into the darkness.

 
8. Second Spleen

Sometimes, daydreaming
in the DeSoto,
Veronica Lake slips away and
is replaced
by a searing ball of fire
that has nothing
to do with Barbara Stanwyck
and this
blazing ball expands in my head
until my
cheeks catch fire and my ears burn
bright purple
and my hair combusts
and my
eyes glow bright yellow
and great
hot gusts of fever rage through my throat and lungs
and mouth and brain.

 
9. Daddy Two

Daddy sat with me in the DeSoto
like he always did on contest nights,
because he could only bear to lose
in front of me.
We got the Pepsodent show on
and listened to Bob Hope
and Daddy stared down the dial
without talking. Towards the end
of the program he straightened his tie
and buttoned up his sport coat.
When Bob read the winner
it didn’t sound anything like Daddy’s slogan.
He pushed his hand through his hair,
loosing an explosion of curls.
Then he pushed the door open
and tore his jacket off,
swinging the empty garment
around and around,
cursing it and choking it,
and finally throwing it
on the ground.

 
10. Final Ammo

Smat slept drooling
in the back of the DeSoto
and I leaned over the front seat
tossing cards at him.
The last one—a three of hearts—
landed on his belly.
Mumsel painted her canvas in the field.
The car door opened and a basket
of clothes landed on my lap.
Ammo followed it in and sat behind the wheel.
“Hide them,” she said. “Your mother mustn’t see.”
She laid her hand on my shoulder.
It was freckled and thin,
kneading me involuntarily.
“Your Mumsel is only a girl,” she said.
“Littler than you.
She can’t even do her laundry anymore.”
I put the basket in the back, next to Smat.
“Nothing is the same,” said Ammo.
“My daughter’s mind is gone.
Her husband is unemployable.
The world has grown cold.
Stalin has the bomb.”

Dan Morey lives in Erie, PA, where he relentlessly pursues the longnose gar, great northern pike and mighty bowfin in the weedy waters of Presque Isle Bay. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in many publications, including Giant Robot, Sein und Werden, Eyeshot, The Big Jewel, Vagabond City, Smokebox, Zine World: A Reader’s Guide to the Underground Press and the Erie Times-News.

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