Poetry: Selections from Karl Koweski

poker with the natives

back home, Chicago, when Lopez
and his crew went down on RICO charges,
a mandatory minimum, twenty years,
Alex was fortunate enough to be entombed
in the bowels of Oklahoma State Prison
playing five card draw at a table
surrounded by grim brown faces
curtained with hair a darker shade of black.
when the man most men deferred to
was referred to as Grey Mountaintop,
Alex cocked an eyebrow, set down his
losing hand and said “that sure is a
crazy ass name for a Puerto Rican.”
seven pairs of dark eyes regarded Alex
incredulously, until Teddie Zahn asked
“where the hell do you think you’re at?”
Grey Mountaintop continued the education.
“these are first nation lands, homeboy,
and you’re looking at the descendants
of the Alabama Choctaw who were
forced off their ancestral lands and
marched here at great loss in 1830.”
“shit, I thought you guys got killed off.
for real, there’s Indians still left out here?”
Grey Mountaintop could not have been
more dumbfounded had Coyote slipped
through the fence and severed his tongue.
“I’m Polish blood, myself,” Alex said,
slapping the golden warbird that mostly
resembled a strangled chicken tattooed
on his left forearm. “my buddy, Manuel
Lopez, he’s Puerto Rican, and he
don’t look any different from you guys.”
“if you’re not one of us, why are
You rocking the feathers on your leg?”
in seconds, Alex’s mind raced through the
compendium of ink embellishing his skin.
“oh, you’re talking about the Blackhawk
tattoo on my calf. I got that to celebrate
the 2014-2015 Stanley Cup victory.
it’s not Indian shit, it’s Chicago hockey,
which, I guess, when you get down to it,”
Alex hedged, “doesn’t everything in this
country come back to the native heritage?”
Grey Mountaintop grunted, went back to
regarding his cards, the surviving Choctaws
following suit, and when Alex caught
two kings on the flop, giving him three
of a kind, Alex did the honorable thing
and folded, believing these natives were
one more loss to a white boy away
from scalping one loud mouth Polack.

pot holders

the moment his lawyer
handed his mother the
pot holders embroidered
with marijuana leaves,
Alex knew he was fucked.
more so, now, as his
mother who had never
baked a casserole
in her life studied
the pot holders as
though they were Rubik
cubes and she suffered
from color blindness,
than when he was
initially stopped by
the K-9 unit
3 o’clock in the morning
while he piloted a
rented Chrysler, trunk
pack with sixty pounds
of marijuana, across
an infamous drug corridor
somewhere in Oklahoma.
he suspected he
was fucked then as
he watched the officer
lead the german shepherd
around the car, dog as
calm as a Hindu cow,
not a concern in the
world except maybe
an eventual treat.
the cop knew better,
knew the odds of
a twenty-year-old
in a rented vehicle
on this stretch of road
at this time of night
being completely innocent
were astronomical.
Alex watched in his
rearview mirror as
the police tugged on
the leash until the
dog whined and bristled.
“sir, I’ve got a hit.
I’m going to have to
search your vehicle.”
well, Alex figured,
there’s a possibility
I might be fucked.
on the way to the
police station,
Alex must have seen
six billboards
advertising the
services of this lawyer,
apparently, the most
successful marijuana
defender in the entire
state of Oklahoma.
Alex failed to
understand his error
until he traded the
thousand dollar retainer
for a pair of
pot holders, noticing
as the lawyer
straightened his tie
the strip of fabric
was embossed with
tiny marijuana leaves.
Alex, recounting the
cop’s shenanigans,
elicited a chuckle.
“that’s what they do—
no worries, though,
with this being your
first offense, I don’t
see you serving more
than two and a half
years of a possible
seven, with a few
year’s probation.”
the sentence being
no different had
Alex decided to
represent himself
minus the pot holders.

ambien amazon
her swollen minnow eyes
swim in rheumy sockets.
I want to capture them
in my palms and study
the languid green scales
for an understanding that
experience has yet to provide.
her chin is raw and chapped
from near constant friction
against my unshaven face.
I touch my thumb upon
this blazing cuckold’s kiss
and laugh at how her
husband mistook it for acne.
I embrace her lithe body,
burrow my face into
the crook of her neck
lined by her soft golden hair,
this den fit for her wolf
where only the late hour
can expel me now.
the empty bottles of corner
store wine we shared
slurs my whispered pledges
to baby doll babble,
the habitual ambien
she slipped between her
lips earlier this evening
dwindles her responses
until those swollen minnow
eyes float in stagnant pools
and I’m left making fake
promises only to myself
on this, our last night
before I leave forever.

Karl Koweski is a displaced Chicagoan now living atop a mountain in rural Alabama. His stories and poems have been published throughout the small press and have been collected in several books and chapbooks. 


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