A poor boy promised me a textbook view
of the stars. No snaking city lights
from a crown of downtown buildings,
Medusa-like in their paralyzing beauty.
He drives the dark highway
and I hold him to his word, he turns
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Driving the highway from Atlanta to Phoenix
means swapping one type of heat for another.
A bead of sweat rolls over my chest,
around my belly and evaporates
so quickly I forget I’m sweating.
Body chemistry changes like the color
of my skin: from yellow to sienna.
My sister says, it’s a dry heat.
At dusk, lightning storms over the mesas.
Violets and grays lie down together.
Mountains are the color of father’s hands,
layers of dark—then light.
People move west to die, retire in a life
of dust, trade the pollen of the south
for a thin coat of grit, the Arizona desert—
We stop on the outskirts of town
and think about being reborn.
When he places his mouth near my mouth
because he’s so obviously thirsty,
when he moves to the well
where my tongue spouts out
because we’re mostly made of water
two-thirds of me is certain:
este infierno vale la pena.
This hell is worth the risk.
Sjohnna McCray was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 7, 1972. He studied at Ohio University and earned an MFA from the University of Virginia where he was a Hoyns Fellow. McCray also received an MA in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.
His poetry collection, Rapture, was selected by Tracy K. Smith as the winner of the 2015 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and will be published by Graywolf Press in 2016.