The Trip Home

The Trip Home read by Nisha Atalie

I sing in the car on my way home from Indiana.

                  Sometimes it is storming and lightning glows.

                                      Sometimes the sun is setting and the clouds
                                                    look like mountains.

I pass the Horseshoe Casino      fading cotton-candy-pink
              and highway entrance signs
and continue    until the oil refinery plants fade
               in overgrown prairie grass.

Their columns loom like turrets,
                hundreds of machines reaching

                                into the sky, here to rain acid
                                on the people and the little park
                                                BP paid for.

The first time I saw their pillars scratching
               the sky
                I imagined them releasing their hold,
                                what might tumble down to Earth. I saw how close
                the coneflower could grow to the oil tanks

                              the bristle grass teeming in late summer,

                 pooling bodies
                               around a portal of death.

Now, I feel a kind of peace
                having finally acknowledged these machines—

                 glass in my foot             pincers at my ankle.

This is not the route for prayers,

                So much has already
                               been lost.

The river doesn’t know             it is taking us back.

The feather-reeds don’t know
                                 they will grow over us,
                 through us, out of us.

That their whispers will be the last echo
                  in the refinery plants
                                   before they disappear.

By the time Chicago appears
                  floating on the lake,
                                    the boats are gone and
                                    cars roar through
                  the curve. Brick buildings overtake

the grasses: red, brown, golden.

Nisha Atalie is a mixed poet of South Asian and European descent from the Pacific Northwest. She is a poetry editor at MASKS literary magazine and her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Blood Orange ReviewThe HungerTinderbox PoetryBreakwater Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2021 Eileen Lannan Poetry Prize.

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