All the Rage by Gabriel Spera


According to a study of the Midwest conducted by the Illinois State Water Survey, the summer of 2004 had a disproportionately high number of clear days. In Lincoln, the departure was 110% above average! Strangely enough, all those clear days added up to a summer that was about four degrees cooler—and with precipitation of two inches more than the norm. Gabriel Spera was the winner of the 2004 PEN Center USA West Award for poetry; during that summer, his poem “All the Rage” was published in Prairie Schooner.

by Tory Clower

All the Rage
Gabriel Spera

Only psychos and felons got tattoos back then,
which covered everyone I worked with on the truck –
Fitch, who lost a rose-twined dagger with half the skin
on both legs when his bike jumped a median, struck
a street lamp, and combusted. Or Pete, with the mermaid
he still showed off like a new bride, trying in vain
to make it shimmy on his arm, blind to the grayed
green tail and blur of what years back had been a smile.
Even Blatz, with his army-navy drabs, wound
a thread around a needle tip, dipped it in a vial
of India ink, and pecked out across the fat mound
of his thumb a skewed gunmetal-green-black
swastika. That should’ve been enough. And yet I found
myself strangely tempted, watching Donny with his slack
side-eyed saunter climb the loading dock,
indifferent to the diesel and seven o-clock cold,
setting his coffee on the punch clock, a hard pack rolled
in his shirt’s short sleeves, baring the rocks
of his biceps, lit up like a beach-side casino
in blues and vermilions, bright forms that stole
from his knuckles to elbows, elbows
to collarbone. And while the rest of us, blessed
with nothing to hold out for anyway, cashed
our paychecks at the pool hall Friday nights, he stashed
what he could of his away, saving up, obsessed,
evidently, with gemming over the arms he’d once
used to beat a decent man to near death
in a life-staining minute that bought him nine months
in Riverfront. And we few of no design, who knew less
beauty than truth, who would always equate
violence with strength, could not help appreciate
how the foreman gave him space. How suddenly foolish
I felt, when I asked him, one such morning
he showed up, skin swollen beneath a jewelish
sheen of baby oil, some new tensed beast adorning
his already busy forearms, when I asked, because
I could picture him with his fist flopped
like a blood donor’s on a vinyl table top,
the walls papered with available designs, the buzz
like a streetlamp on the fritz, when I asked in
all innocence if it hurt, having that needle pop
again and again and again the drum of his skin.