State Fair

by Keith Ekiss

My hand touches the glass that separates
children from the model train exhibition
built to scale: toothpicks stand as pines

loaded coal cars haul the blasted wealth
of imaginary strip mines. The town’s not
more than a sketch for passing through.

My mother puffs Kent Lights, stepping
toward the crafts. I trade my future, riding
the rails, seeking out further adventure—

hoping not to lose her among blue ribbon
jams, elaborately dull needlepoint. Then, pigs.
My father’s phrase: making a silk purse

from a sow’s ear. Mohawks and mullets,
long-haired Navajo rockers, leather vests
no shirts. Get tanked, hit the fair. A ride

dangles you across the grounds, look up—
skirted legs, teens toeing flip-flops,
cherry nails. The night stays heated.

Girls licking cotton candy sticks.
There’s one face, thrilled to anger,
the triumph of sugar, her mother

crowns her queen, she wields the pink
cloud like the flag of her own nation.
Hey kid, win a prize for your mother.

Hive crush—tooled boots, ripped jeans,
lights glow warmer. My mother grips
her turquoise wrist, frybread drips honey,

powdered sugar dusts our eager chins.
Paper plate served by a boy, crow hair,
bolo knotted tight, pristine white hat

I hesitate to call cowboy. What does he see?
Kid with dollars to spare. He smiles, counting
back my father’s change. Time for home.

One last bustle and sticky rush of unlikeness
through the parking lot, late summer Saturday
night parade of everyone our family’s not:

Mormon, Apache, Bullhead City cattlehand,
itinerant salesman gumming up plush loafers
with spilled taffy. I’m sleepy, blurry lights

as the car follows Pima Road. The tribe owns
the east lane, Scottsdale owns the west.
Back seat croucher, the shy one, sensing

through my sugary drowse, the emptiness
needed explaining, the history, repeating.
The reservation had nearly grown dark.

Single bulbs of houses past the cotton fields.
No one I knew lived there, no one ever went.
If I wanted in the morning, I’d walk through it—

leaving the choking smell of cooling tar,
past the model homes assuring buyers
no one had ever lived here before.

Published on April 9, 2010