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Still Life of Central Valley with Skyline & Autopsy

— torrin a. greathouse

How can I explain the sky
is sharper where I come from?
No gentle scrape of pastels
across the vaulted ceilings
of the wind, instead, the blood
-hot flash of 1000 light bulb
filaments slowly igniting.
Punch pink horizon—a match
-scalded thumb. Each autumn
morning, a teacher & I sat,
coffee steam, a ribbon dancing
between us, & watched the air
quality flags strung above,
always some new shade of flame.
Red, yellow, orange. Today,
the sky is flagged the color of sun-
burned violets—a warning.
The wind littered with tiny
assassins. Pesticides, accelerants,
dust. ​If we stay here, it will
kill us both
​. He laughs, & so
I do not tell him how my nose
already bled today with the effort
of breathing. He tells me again
how the smog of the whole state
settles here, infection finding
purchase in the skin. & the irony:
people travel from across the world
to see our dusk & dawn’s unreal
glow. Skyline glimmering like neon
off the edge of a blade. Years later,
a coroner—his scalpel building
a horizon through the fluorescent
white of a cadaver’s chest—tells me
how the wind here wounds.
How twenty years can leave
the lungs indistinguishable
from those of a chainsmoker,
their breath rattling inside
like loose change. He lifts
the collapsed organ from the corpse
& opens it with a blade. Snaps
a photo of what lies within—
its impossible, red landscape.
That fall, the moon hung itself
in the sky like a drop of amber.
Its strange ochre light stained so
deep I couldn’t help but imagine
a perfect body frozen inside.


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