To the A-Hole in Oakland Who Pulled Out a Crowbar

after I’d slammed on my breaks
when he’d blown through a red light.
I screamed, “You’re going to kill someone”
and he slammed on his breaks—
it was a day dedicated to slamming

with the clouds slamming into the sun
and my hand slamming into a window
when I tripped and fell just a couple hours
before—and the a-hole got out of his car
and approached me with, yes, a crowbar

in his hand saying, “What do you want?
What do you want!” as if that made sense,
as if we should be OK with people
almost hitting our cars and OK with
crowbars and OK with stupid questions,

so I said, “I’d like to go to the hospital,”
except I screamed it like I was insane too,
and he kept approaching, the crowbar high
above his head, his landscaping truck
all puke colored and his work uniform—

yes, he was doing this in his work uniform—
looking like a sofa draped on a human.
I held up my hand to show the blood
that was still on it. You see, I’d actually
just gone to the V.A., which isn’t really

so much a hospital as it is a place
where vets go when they just keep
refusing to die and I was refusing to die,
holding up my bloody hand because
the doctor had used glue, yup, glue

to cover the wound, except he’d placed
the glue where the blood had pooled
except the blood had pooled not where
the wound was, but where gravity
took it, so the actual wound was still

wide open and before I’d left the hospital,
he said, “How’s that hand?” and I held it out
to show it was still bleeding and he said,
“Looks like we got a leak, don’t we?”
and I waited to see if that meant he’d try

to stop the bleeding, but he said, “Come back
in three weeks.” “For what?” “If you need
to,” he said. I needed to get home
where I’d at least clean the thing out,
where at least I’d try. But I couldn’t get

home, because Oakland is the most expensive
ugly city in the world, a place where I pay
five times what I’ve paid in any other city
for an apartment known to have lead paint
and a landlord who said he won’t fix it

until someone complains and everyone
is afraid to complain because we don’t
want to get evicted and I was so tempted
to slam my bloody hand into the face
of the crowbar a-hole and then slap it

in the face of my landlord and then slap it
in the sun’s cloudy face but instead I just
stared at the insane landscaper and said,
“If you really want to go to prison, then
use that crowbar. If you want to be sane,

then get your fucking truck out of the middle
of the road.” And he held the crowbar up
like he was deciding which he wanted
and he finally figured he wanted to go home
and so he did and so I did and so did the sun.


Watching a Music Video Where Rich People Act Like They’re Poor

makes me think of the war movie
where professional models
pretend that they are hurt,

but it is a professional hurt
where it is so goddamn
cinematographic that all you can

think about is their Jesus’ hair,
how the slow motion reminds me
of the music video, how fake

the poverty is when they could just
drive three miles and see real poverty
that would make you want to

light a gas station on fire
and a friend of mine says
“the thing I love about gun violence

is that, in reality, the people most likely
to be killed by guns are gun owners,
so they’re getting what they deserve”

and I say, “What about secondhand smoke?”
and he says, “What?” and I say,
“In America, people believe that

if you have a stomachache, the cure
is to eat your own stomach”
and he says, “What?” and I say,

“If we own more guns, then we’ll all be safe.
And if everyone owned a nuclear weapon,
we’d never have to worry about war.”

And he says, “Are you being sarcastic?”
And I say, “It was a bright cold day in December,
and the clocks are striking thirteen.”


In the Military, I Had a P.O. Who Told Us to Paint the Bottom of the Stairs

so we did.
Me and this kid from Texas

who killed himself three months later.
He put a gun in his mouth.

They didn’t give me a gun
For my rating, they just gave me air.

I’m glad I only had air.
I’d probably have killed myself too.

But I lived.
If you live, you get money for college.

But you have to live.
Eleven people died when I was in the military.

None of them got money for college.
The guys who got traumatic brain injuries

got money for college
but they couldn’t go to college.

They painted the bottom of stairs
before they died though,

and before the brain injuries.
I remember when we painted the bottom of the stairs.

The paint dripped down onto our faces,
into our eyes.

I remember the burn.
It took us four days to finish.

Four long days.
Because we had to do it by flashlight.

There was no light down there.
Nobody ever walks underneath the stairs.

It was a storage room that was locked.
An empty storage room.

Later, they told us the walls had asbestos.
I’d tell the guy who I painted the stairs with

but he’s dead.
(Maybe give this poem to anybody thinking

about enlisting.
Unless you don’t like them.

If you don’t like them,
then hide this poem.)


Ron Riekki’s books include And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017 (Michigan State University Press), Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Independent Publisher Book Award), The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (Michigan Notable Book), and U.P.: a novel (Ghost Road Press). Books upcoming in 2019: Posttraumatic: a memoir—essays & flash non-fiction on the military, prison, iggy pop, the devil, & writing (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice (Michigan State University Press, w/Andrea Scarpino), The Many Lives of The Evil Dead: Essays on the Cult Film Franchise (McFarland, w/Jeff Sartain). The best band this year is Idles.