June 2019

Grace Clement

American Spirit

Romanticize rot with me, baby—let’s catalyze cancer—
just some pre-dinner poetry, that’s what I call it, keep it classic
like the movies. I say “classic”— you think I mean that hot old
1930s shit, kissin’ in the back in black and white. But baby I mean
lighters – I mean 1956 – red, yellow, black checkers – click-floof and
“got a light” and “can I bum one of those.” I mean we turn it into
perfume, our own special mix: midnight and sex on our breath, sewn
into our sleeves, tucked behind my ear when you laugh, when my arm’s
at your waist. I mean we dress real nice – cocktail party, like we’re rich. You’ll
light up, exhale; they’ll say “ain’t she divine, ain’t she glamor” and I’ll say “yessir,
yes ma’am she is.”

I mean we know how to dance, so we’ll go downtown – get drunk off strangers,
underaged angels. I’ll wear my tie loose like a medal, wear my sunglasses in; you’ll
leave a kiss on my cheek, puckered powder, princess rose. Pinky promise me, baby,
that later my walls’ll turn gray and blurred while we listen to records, fall desperate
in love, touch a future with a flame. Addicted to you, how you look like my heart –
you’re a sight to behold, to be held in my fingers, cradled – not paper, but thin, and
soft, blue eyes bright and veiled. You know I’d take you around, wear a leather jacket
for you, stick a comb in the back of my jeans. I’d be the guy who takes a puff just to
put it out, just to set the scene – just to ask you to want me. Let your mama know,
when I drop you back home – let her know it’s my smoke you’ve been wearing so nice.

Author’s Statement
I wrote this poem after my boyfriend and I realized that, although we have different concepts of the word “classic,” both of our images include smoking. The piece was meant to be an ode to something unworthy of an ode—the speaker is in love with his life, but, more than that, he’s addicted to it; through his love interest and his smoking habit, he watches as this obsession is chaotically perpetuated. 

From the Poetry Editors
Reading “American Spirit” is like listening to pop jazz. The rhythm carries such lyrical phrases throughout the piece that it becomes beat poetry.  Clement’s poem pays homage to the black and white films of the 1950’s in America while pushing the boundaries of time: “I say ‘classic’– you think I mean that hot old 1930s shit, kissin’ in the back in black and white. But baby I mean lighters–I mean 1956–red, yellow, black checkers…”