portion of artwork for Phil Estes's poems

Dream about my future, after the big bomb planes of the spy army swarm the capitol
Phil Estes

After the comics of Fletcher Hanks

My hot ox-wife kicks me out for smoking in the house at 2 AM.
She wears short sundresses to Kroger sometimes.
I don’t tell her to wear short sundresses,
she wears them on her own.
And she’s not an actual ox,
just born under the sign of the ox—
like how I am a rooster, but not a rooster.
The placemat at North China Szechwan,
where we eat on Mondays,
says the ox and rooster cohabit perfectly—
the female ox doesn’t mind the male rooster’s travels,
and the rooster makes sure to call the ox from his hotel room.
He says he loves her, wishes she came along this time;
misses how her legs look in a short sundress—
they’re not like ox legs, they’re smooth with calf muscles.

When I smoke in the house she takes the skin off her face;
reveals her skull and threatens me
with the relentless clutches of a cigarette octopus.

Mike Hartsock, the sports guy at Channel 7,
walks his Bichon Frises through my yard.
His dogs look like Muppets that can play the piano—
white mop hair, black bright pupils, like plastic,
tongues pink like their leashes.
“When are you leaving for Germany, Tom?”
“Two weeks, ox-wife is coming this time.”
I couldn’t remember if there’s been nuclear war in Germany,
so I say, “Does Germany get radioactive men this time of year?”
“Oh no,” Mike says. “Just the Chemical Men.”
John, the accountant over on Oak, visited Germany
when the Chemical Men came out.
John said that except for their giant flaming fingers,
the Chemical Men are invisible.
They are transparent and colorless
and reflect no light and cast no shadow.
“Well, shit,” I say.

I hope Chemical Men leave my ox-wife alone,
don’t carry her away to love them.
I imagine the Chemical Men and my wife in the booth of a new Szechwan place.
She’d recommend the Beef Lo Mein,
laugh at how their flaming fingers burn the fortune before they can read it.

“What part of Germany will you be in?” Mike asks.
“Berlin,” I say.
“You’ll be fine. The Chemical Men only live in Bavaria.
You can still eat the famous pretzels in Berlin, and there will be no Chemical Men.”
Mike walks his Bichons home.

I ring the doorbell; shout, “The Chinese say we’re meant to be together.”
I hear her on the other side of the door,
“Brush your teeth, and use Listerine, and I’ll let you in.”
“Sounds fair.”
She sits on the sink, back against the mirror,
watches to makes sure I swish the Listerine the full 30 seconds.
I want her to wear her face to bed.

The chemical men come to Berlin anyway.
They run through the streets, crunch VW Bugs
like eggshells. Burn Kruezberg-punk kids
between their flaming fingers,
postpone weekend soccer games.
We can’t see their shadows,
so they knock on our hotel window.
Gesture to us to come out, they promise
we’ll be on TV. One holds a microphone.
I don’t believe them and stay in our room, eat Chinese,
not pretzels. She doesn’t believe them either,
and we stay like that together, backs against the wall
with the curtains closed.

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