August 16, 2017KR OnlinePoetry

Indianapolis 500

“If anything in this world is bulletproof, this is it.”
     —Joe Cloutier, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president, 1985

Still, they inspect our coolers. Cameras
wheel silent in their bubbles, the bomb dogs
of the heartland tending the aisles. Bulletproof
is such strict labor. Today, still, soldiers
wipe the dust from their rifles in a street
in the desert somewhere so I, home here
from California, can crack Natural
Ices open one after another & watch
the million multicolored balloons lift
off from their terraced pagoda, the globes
of blue & red wrapped tight, I imagine,
in tiny flak jackets. From the back seats
of forty convertibles, Chevy, veterans
smile & gesture for the crowd, crisp flags
rising from the grandstands, the pit crews, clean
still, in their firesuits, sliding their jet cars
into position. The infield reels. This
is your nation on myth. Remember moon
landings? The pageantry we packed them off
in their fiery candles with. Or think of Rome
late in its decadence. Its legions beat
back in Gaul & Cyprus, though the empire,
of course, was the stench & glory roiling
on the stadium floor. This Memorial
weekend in Washington, tourists queue past
our first papers saved there in bulletproof
glass, but the hot dogs dripping on their coils
in the Alley Cafe, gate six, are the Word
made flesh, the fire rippling in the engines
suddenly, flag lifted, & we are one
then in our dying to watch a man, moon-
shot, or like some classic hero, hitch on
the armor of his people—plastic wings
fanned outward, chassis gleaming—& turning
to his distant, deathless gods, go airborne.

Christopher Kempf
Christopher Kempf is the author of the poetry collection Late in the Empire of Men, which won the 2015 Levis Prize from Four Way Books. He is a doctoral candidate in English Literature at the University of Chicago.