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 is still 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 blue 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 go dark.


Two older boys step out, the ones he’s seen

on her Instagram (white 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.



Originally published in Crazyhorse