When I ask Hassan if he has any pets, he says, I had a cat,
in Somalia, but my neighbors ate it.
Super Bowl Sunday.
No cars on the road. I hold my keys inside my pocket.
He says, people will eat dogs or cats it doesn't matter.
It's natural to compare experiences.
I think about when my neighbors shot fireworks
into my dog's eyes on the Fourth of July.
My first firework was a Black Snake:
a carbon lozenge that intumesces ash outwards from either side
as if it were falling out of itself to become something else.
Hassan looks into my eyes in the rearview, and says,
the outside world is really fucked up, man, people will eat anything.
Living inside, I've always had preferences.
I would puke on my plate when my mother cooked steak.
A forkful of fat was enough to drown me.
Last year, a teenager left a Chicago Walmart
with a knife and a machete,
got into a cab,
and murdered the driver—
her arms waving with so much strength as she hacked
at him from behind.
Crawling bloodily out of his car, crying
out as loud as he could, leaking
the parts of himself he was using as a worker.
Hassan tells me to get out of the country to teach English.
You have a degree. Go.
We are driving down Interstate Five. His words
are soft like the stutter of a fan. He says he speaks four languages,
and I ask what it was like learning Arabic.
In college, I studied Russian.
My favorite word is tourist attraction
Russian words remind me of sky scrapers.
I was four when I first met guilt,
a toothache in my stomach. My dog dug
a hole beneath the fence and escaped the neighbors
attempting to blind her with
Bottle Rockets and Screaming Eagles.
I kicked gravel back into the hole
after we drove around calling her name
as loud as we could.
Hassan asks if I watched the game. No, I say,
I was working, but I never watch football.
He says he just goes along with whatever his passengers say:
You like the Eagles, I like the Eagles. You like the Patriots, I like the Patriots.
In my intrusive thoughts, I am racist, sexist.
I ball up my fist and throw it at strangers.
Words hinge like a catapult on my tongue.
The right ones will break bones.
We drive past the first and only sex store
where my ex and I got a movie rental membership.
We settled on a vampire parody porno. I bit her lip
too hard when we had sex afterwards
because I couldn't stop thinking about how she made popcorn
to eat while we watched a faux Bella and Edward fuck
on a dark faux Seattle couch. I didn't desire either of them,
but I resonated with the vampire.
Edward, your dick is so cold, said Bella.
My dog ate all the toys in my room.
Then she began to eat the box.
Hassan asks where I am going.
To watch my mom's dog, I say.
And he asks if the dog knows me from birth.
When my mother first adopted her, she had Parvovirus.
During the same week I had the flu.

While she emptied herself hose-
like outside, I wore my skin like a wet sheet.
At breakfast my father says, touch one dick
and you're gay
, as he sips his bloody mary
with the miniature pork sausage poked onto
a decorative toothpick resting
above the ice.
How many times
do I have to swallow
my own tongue?
In a Montmartre wine shop, two Russian women
struggled to communicate with the steward.
While browsing South African wines, I watched
both parties, tense fingers, attempting to mash
French and Russian to no avail. I could have helped,
but I didn't. I bought a bottle that said, notes of peppercorn and citrus.
It was the worst wine I have ever had.
My mother tells me of a time we went out for Chinese food.
In the parking lot afterwards,
I said that was good, before I threw up.
Fifteen dollars, she said, looking down.
Before I was born I lived
in a soft uterus.
I like to think that was the case just for me.
My eyes droop. Hassan, I think.
Maybe I should have sat in the front seat.
I dream his story as an Alaskan fisherman,
sleeping on a plywood cotton bunk in a ship.
His eyes avert from the rearview.
He says he moved from Somalia to Seattle,
where he couldn't afford to live. Then to Alaska.
For two years, he lived among fishermen.
Everything sea.
The road floods before us.
Hassan turns on his windshield wipers.
I think to myself,
You never sit
directly behind the driver
if you are alone. 

tyler sowa bio pic.jpg

Tyler Sowa is a queer poet from Portland, Oregon. He holds a B.A. from Portland State University and a creative writing certificate from the Independent Publishing Resource Center. He dog-ears all of his books unless they are from the library and is always reading and telling other people to read the poetry of Diane Wakoski.

Cover image by Tyler Brewington: closeup of mineral deposit in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.

Darla Mottram