Everything starts ten minutes after dark.
The ticket line already spans from where
the gates are opening to this gravel sea
of cars. Two dragsters under a floodlight,
Turbo Joe Worthington and Johnny Red.
August sun not quite down, a half-balloon.
The boy looks up. His purple-fish balloon,
loosed from his fingers into the near dark
lit with haloes of flies. His neck burns red
as his sister’s halter top, and everywhere
people are fading, everywhere this light
drains from them all until they hardly see
him burn. He wants and doesn’t want to see
it breach the clouds, his purple-fish balloon
bound for some county where it’s always light.
His sister slides beneath the bleachers’ dark
to look for things, her eyes turned anywhere
but here. The gates have opened. Johnny Red
thumbs-ups the crowd, the starter teases red
to yellow, then red again. No one can see
the boy climb to the empty top row, where
he lays a wool blanket, his cheeks ballooned
with funnel cake. Turbo Joe spools a dark
yarn of exhaust into the choke-stained light.
The boy looks back. A low pair of headlights
sweeps through the parking lot before a red
pickup comes to a stop, its lamps gone dark.
Two older boys step out, the ones he’s seen
on her Instagram (fake flowers, white balloons
trailing like comets from a string). But where
is she? Far underneath the grandstand, where
foil hot-dog wrappers blink in the slant light
of the Astro Wheel, the torn skins of balloons
uncurl: she’s spinning, a dizzy swirl of red.
She’s fallen. Eyes shut now, the boy can see
her body heave with laughter. As the dark
balloon of night stares back, as Johnny Red
loses by instants, startled to flight, unseen
dark birds are struggling upward everywhere.