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C.N.P Poetry 

Still Life of Panties on a Windshield; We Wake to Empire

By: Kate Polak

Still Life of Panties on a Windshield

They may have been there all night—

                                                                        I don’t leave

as I might. 

                     It’s warm inside, bitter to skin

as doors are bridged and resigned for errands.

Scarlet mesh coiled over the wipers, flung

in a moment of abandon—

                                                           an impulse 

or fury, melodic in the praise of heat

in winter. 

                               Thrusting negligée to the street

is best practice against encroaching dark.  

One night on the lawn beneath a high rise, 

I stripped down to nothing in a young man’s


                     and we ran around the pool, 

both laughing, 

                               using condoms as slingshots. 

Shadows of men loitered, backlit and framed

by fluorescence above, 

                                                           while we wheeled 

around gathering demands that would take

our naked fervor, 

                                    channel it to work

                                    and country, service and dinners with the kids.

Re-collecting artifacts of history:   

both blanching in the flood lights, 

                                                                      hurried but

still careful, sure of ourselves but not the other’s


                I try to hedge my bets, to recall 

two bodies drowning out the light pollution 

between fingers not too kind or cruel—but

                interposed are swells and sallies, caves, shaking dark,

                and long, flat sands that collect forever—there’s 

the spot we mocked the gaze, 

                                                           praise and censure

both poised to gather, but with surprise, 

                                                                                     washed off. 

We Wake to Empire

I watch horror shows to evade encroaching 

dread. I poke ghosts and make goblins manifest.

We’re only gore and rhythmic history—yawning   

in spite, smoothing our bad brother’s hair, lest

we be what we’ve thought we are, and feared. A jest

of devolution: family, the chanced “what 

am I to him?” an obvious crime. Our breasts

are like our fears: monsters, poverty, children, shut

doors. We’re nothing to our neurons’ unnerved hurt. 

It’s why we don’t survive our fright: don’t live

beyond fleshed fence that makes a scare. We work

because, even brave, we’ve want enough to give: 

to be loved is to be the meat flensed from deer. 

To be haunted is smelling winter coming near. 


Kate Polak is a professor and writer. Her work is forthcoming or has recently appeared in Plainsongs, So to Speak, In Parentheses, Barzakh, and elsewhere. She lives in Yellow Springs with her husband and five familiars, and has painted her house to resemble a jack-o’-lantern. 

“Still Life of Panties on a Windshield” started, as the title suggests, with a pair of panties that I found flung onto my car one morning. I was running late for work, feeling harried, and there they were: this bright crimson against a grey Ohio winter backdrop. I thought about the circumstances all day that could’ve ended in such a tableau. 

My speculations took me back to a time when I suspect I, or my underwear at least, would’ve been an object of conjecture as well, and how much wonder and joy can come from the reckless disposal of undergarments. Given the context in which I found the panties—caught in the daily grind—it became a meditation on the warding spell against adulthood that sex can be when it's shorn of shame.  

“We Wake to Empire” is inspired by the Marilyn Chin poem “October Song,” which meditates on some of the same demands I was considering in “Still Life…,” but my response was a sort of reflection on the relationship between desire and fear.  


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