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—
or fury, melodic in the praise of heat
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,
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,
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,
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.