Brain Tonic by Luke Stromberg

Brain Tonic
        for John Foy

Like my grandmother before me, I like to drink
A refreshing can of Coca Cola for breakfast
It’s part of my arrested development.
Sadly, I never developed a taste for coffee,
A classic marker of maturity,
Like when a girl gets her first training bra.
I do enjoy the occasional hot tea
(With too much sugar and milk), but I prefer
To keep it low class. Don’t misunderstand—
It’s not a political gesture, just my “truth.”
I find the initial sip of carbonated
Sweetness akin to the lost ritual
Of that first frosty-morning drag from a Camel,
Both pleasures sneered at by the professional class.
My uncle once compared smokers to Jews
In Nazi Germany! The comparison
Was, as the kids would say, “problematic,”
But health can be a form of tyranny,
I guess…What was I talking about again?

Ah, yes! Healthful, delicious Coca Cola!
“The Intellectual Drink,” “The Ideal Brain Tonic,”
Said to relieve exhaustion and calm the nerves,
To satisfy the thirsty and help the weary.
Like Trump, I drink several cans a day
And sometimes feel powerless with rage.
I’m sorry (sort of) for these affinities
But overwhelmed by social change and struggling
To gain purchase, I’ve turned to Coca Cola.
On an airplane one time, a woman asked
If I could try to be less animated.
I was relating a story to a friend,
You see, and am excitable by nature.
…Ah, I am exhausted, so exhausted…
Beat down by politics, divorce, and failure,
The past few months have been a son-of-a-bitch.
I’d like the world to buy me a Coke, for once,
And keep me company. It’s the real thing
That I want today, the real thing, the real thing.

*

Luke Stromberg’s poetry and criticism have appeared in Smartish Pace, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Golidad Review, Think Journal, The Raintown Review, The Dark Horse, Cassandra Voices, and several other venues. He also serves as the Associate Poetry Editor of E-Verse Radio. Luke works as an adjunct professor at Eastern University and La Salle University and lives in Upper Darby, PA.

Three Poems by Anne Babson

POST-FACTUAL-MODERNISM

So much depends
Upon
A red hat about
America
Stitched in China
For Russia
Beside the white
Chickens

*

MADISON AVENUE HAIKU

The Shinto soundbyte
Smacked between bubblegum lips
Is irreligious.

Five beats, seven beats,
Five beats — and why should we think
This is not an ad?

Japanese culture
Owns the rights to bonsai verse.
Coke is it for us.

*

WHERE LOUIS, LESTAT AND I BAR-CRAWL BOURBON STREET

Whatever words say, bodies govern us,
Trapped by flesh, no matter which pretty speech.
But on Bourbon, bouncers don’t card this
Child corpse. They assume I’m auditioning.
I watch women spin on poles, cellulite
Jiggling while they twerk, fat nipples bouncing.
Louis and Lestat slip into the lounge,
But I am not hungry for the buffet.
I stole a wallet off my midnight snack
On Conti. I slip bills in g-strings, not
To satisfy appetites but to watch
Women’s thighs show me stretch marks and track marks
Through bronze spray tan, tattoos, and glitter sweat.

This book freezes me in glitter amber.
My child vampire body will never grow.
That’s not vampire blood. That’s vampire novel.
I ask Britni, the one I panty-stuffed
With twenty singles, to answer questions.
What’s her favorite book? She doesn’t read.
Not reading books traps, too, I see. Britni
Won’t reach fifti, my night vision tells me.
But what is your favorite book? Yes, you there!
And to what has it taught you to submit?

*

Anne Babson is the author of three full-length collections of poetry — The White Trash Pantheon, Polite Occasions, and Messiah. Her fourth collection, The Bunker Book, will be published in 2021 by Unsolicited Press. Her poems have appeared in literary journals on five continents. She lives and writes in New Orleans.