“Ascension Blues” by Mark Wagenaar

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Martha Dunfee

—The Ascension of Slim, Jay Watson, Brauer Museum

It isn’t this half moon

Jumpmanned just above the horizon line

that sunspots my eyes after I look away

as I drive this nameless numbered highway,

but the afterimage of the painting                   The Ascension of Slim Shady:

Slim lies on the table, with one of Snoop’s legs transplanted

in place of his own, Snoop in the foreground

unconscious on the floor.

Suge & Dre bedside.                                   And the ghost of Pac behind them.

Is Snoop a willing donor,

a generous mentor? Or does the painting

condemn appropriation?

It’s complicated, though we’re all getting our stories straight,

as if we’re at the border, papers in hand,

or standing before St. Peter at the gate.

O country of the 99%

hydrocortisone addicts in the world.

O waterboarded in the land of baptisms,

the preacher on AM-whatever-in-Oklahoma

wants to tell you about the new Jerusalem—

by now, Pac knows if heaven’s got a ghetto—

which, if & when it’s built here, will be built

upon the bones of Terence Crutcher,


on him when he was gunned down in the middle of the street,

walking away. By now the grey wings

have been falling

for days now. Dove season.

Slim, put your best foot forward,

& if the gospel

of epigenetics holds true, somewhere in that leg

a gene’s been silhouetted like a doorway with a body

by the memory of past violence.

A face printed upon it—the latest body in the streets.

And so, whoever you are, you are the landscape.

The salt furnace, shotgun shack. The auction block.

Whoever, you are, the music of ascension blows through your bones,

like wind through a hundred burned violins.

Almost the quiet of ghost towns.

And the seine of stitched feathers that holds our dreams,

slow drift of hair

of a child in a tub,

the ghostly hair

of nebulae. Something near us, & already beyond.

Live with one foot in the air,

Baptists around here say,

as if you’re already halfway to heaven—

it’s that next step that trips me,

but any day now, we’ll get it,

we’ll fall to the heights

& feel the lift that hollow bones feel

each leap when air rushes in,

any day now.


Mark Wagenaar is the author of three award-winning poetry books, including the Saltman Prize-winning Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining, which was just released by Red Hen Press. His poetry and fiction have appeared widely, including in the New Yorker, Tin House, the Southern Review, River Styx, the Cincinnati Review, and Gulf Coast. He is an assistant professor at Valparaiso University.
© 2018 Candid Clicker Photography