Ophelia in the Badlands

by Charlotte Hughes

In my history, I was the prettiest girl
            in town who was seduced
by the summer eclipse or the hellion who stole the keys
                        of Daddy’s 1958 Impala,
the one bluer than a tooth of turquoise, the one 
            he paid his thumb and tongue for,
all for the Hamlet of my Sandia Mountains hamlet,
                        the bard of the badlands,
gaze clouded over my eyes     and voice looped in my tongue.
Once on the run from our fathers  his uncle 
            and every nightmare weaved into his rug,
he calls me his queen 
            of the 24-hour drive-thru, crown princess
of pocketed change & double takes. 
                        At night
            we play games in the motels:
how many days until we will be reported missing,
            how many cars peter up the mountain to our pocket-size
town for the eclipse    how many days until the radio
            says we just might as well die
already. 
            By the side of the road he picks cornflowers,
slip-pink ones, and braids my hair with his dull hands
                        with the Gila monsters hissing in approval,
and I imagine this is one sort of wedding, the happy one
            at the end of a comedy, because
after the wind takes the cornflowers back        we both drink
            from liters of gas-station soda and keep driving
                        our hands in each other.
In my history, Hamlet kissed me before he left the Super 8 
            that night to whatever’s next in this story,
but he forgot to lock the motel door   and I can’t understand anything
            but night air.     The desert prairie, right outside
the chicken-wire gates of the motel, said that it would sing me 
            to sleep and tuck in the covers. 
What else can a girl do            but wait            I laid a blanket
on the earth next to a bitten nopal cactus and counted
the few stars left in the sky.
            But I am half as good at lying than telling the truth. 
The sky wasn’t empty
                 but a woman outside Roswell
            saw a flying chrome Corvette, revving mile high in the sky, 
speaking in a tongue 
                                    she did not know. 
                        It wasn’t night but the day of the eclipse
and the brush-frogs and the cicadas and the Gila monsters
            sang to me through the flypaper walls 
of the motel. 
                        The Impala didn’t leave but I stole it 
back again, (Hamlet sleeping in the locked room), and 
            as I drove straight through
                        that once-in-a-century eclipse, 
as day became night
            and tragic, comic,
the radio asked me, What are you doing today?, and I laughed,
                                                living.

You May Also Like

Garbage to Curb

I’m instantly reminded of why I skipped the last few of these—the room is all hot breath and squeezed shoulders, and I have two giants in front of me blocking my view. One wears a blue topcloth with the words Garbage to Curb carefully painted across the back, staring me in the face.