Next to the Gas Station That Sells Chicken Wings
by Kendra DeColo & Tyler Mills
the fortuneteller ebbed in dime store jewelry
reads your star chart like a takeout menu,
the moon hanging sideways like a jaw,
pneumatic mouths of peonies tattooed
across her chest like the first oily harlequin
illustrations. She is aloof
but determined, charging you $200 to listen
to her voice; a match fizzled in a beer bottle
left on the side of the road like a Christmas tree
ornament lending its subdued charisma to
the interstate where you rode all night
to get to this neon cove, pressed
your cheek against the dash like a gun’s emptied
chamber, bullets of rain spattered
onto the windshield and blurring
the gas station insignia like wings
of melted mascara down your cheeks. She concludes
after a sip of Diet Coke that there is a man
waiting for you in the gold-lit corner
of the future. He is holding something
of yours in his hands. He will smooth out
the rough edges. He will cure
the STD inherited in high school
when you lost your virginity
to the one who dropped out with a semester
left. He will be the answer to the hectic plot
of your life, she says while checking a text message
on her phone. He won’t do things
like get so drunk he pisses on the living room
carpet stumbling home at 4 am. He won’t
leave other women’s phone numbers
for you to find in his pockets
while doing laundry. He will say your name
like the only word that matters.
When he holds your hand, stars
will pierce your liver
as if your body can’t hold
that much light.
“Next to the Gas Station that Sells Chicken Wings” is a poem from our collaborative chapbook, Low Budget Movie, out this summer through Diode Editions. As I was going through my notes, I remembered that we first conceived “Next to the Gas Station…” as part of a series of poems that embodied what we thought of as “Spite and Joy” (capital S, capital J!). I find joy in each line of this poem, which emerged from fragments during a time I felt like I couldn’t write. The misogyny and racism of Trump’s political campaign was at a fever pitch (only to get even worse). Piece by piece, as we wrote “Next to the Gas Station” together, one of us would build the poem by sending a few lines to the other poet, and we’d stop writing just before finishing a simile, metaphor, or thought past a line. Sometimes, when the ball of the poem was kicked back to me, all I had were five words--and even though this was all I had, I’d try to give the poem’s steering wheel a firm twist. I don’t remember who wrote these lines, but I do recall the process where one of us took the line just to the edge of an action before sharing it with the other poet:
...a beer bottle
left on the side of the road like a Christmas tree
ornament lending its subdued charisma to [to where?]
the interstate where you rode all night.
Yes! I love the way we could lean into the unknown and trust that the other person would take the fragment and run. I’m always struck by how this project was pure play—isn’t spite as playful as joy?— how we would write an email with only the word “Ping” to notify the other that new lines had been added. And I love how grafting/hemming/cleaving lines to one another’s felt both secretive and public, like scrawling a love note on the side of a bridge, waiting for the beloved to drive past on their way to work. It amazes me that this exercise in playfulness and connection evolved into what feels like one voice, pivoting and lunging forward to celebrate and interrogate beauty.
I also would like to note that the poem was originally called “Heroine’s Journey”—a nod to the ways in which women have been left out of classic frame of storytelling, and a reference to the anecdote in which Joseph Campbell allegedly said to his student Maureen Murdock: "Women don’t need to make the journey, they are the place that everyone is trying to get to." So much of our play (joy and spite) has been centered on this shared feeling of being shut out, and then writing our way back in.
Kendra DeColo is the author of three poetry collections, I Am Not Trying to Hide My Hungers From the World (BOA Editions, 2021); My Dinner with Ron Jeremy; and Thieves in the Afterlife, selected by Yusef Komunyakaa for the 2013 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. She is also co-author of Low Budget Movie (Diode, 2021), a collaborative chapbook written with Tyler Mills. She has received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Millay Colony, Split this Rock, and the Tennessee Arts Commission. Her poems and essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, Tin House, Waxwing, Los Angeles Review, Bitch Magazine, VIDA, and elsewhere. DeColo currently teaches at The Hugo House and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Tyler Mills is the author of the chapbook The City Scattered (Snowbound Chapbook Award, Tupelo Press, 2022), co-author with Kendra DeColo of Low Budget Movie (Diode Editions Chapbook Prize, Diode Editions, 2021), and author of the poetry books Hawk Parable and Tongue Lyre. A poet and essayist, her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Guardian, The New Republic, The Believer, and POETRY, and her essays in AGNI, Brevity, Copper Nickel, and The Rumpus. Mills teaches for Sarah Lawrence College’s Writing Institute, edits The Account, and lives in Brooklyn.