Jay Gao

Sky Soldier

Today, after raising up my dirty laundry from the dead Lake,
a stranger named Larry called me,
concerned about the vehicular accident I was destined to be a victim of.
No, you must have the wrong man. I cannot drive,
I said politely before hanging up, rubbing at my bloodstain
on a silk shirt. I searched for Larry’s caller ID on Google,
and found the obituary for an accountant who had died seven years ago
after a long war with multiple myeloma. You see, between being born in Hickory
North Carolina, and retiring in Las Vegas Nevada, Larry
was highly involved in civic activities, served the Lutheran Church in many
capacities, managed a tax department for Ernst & Ernst
before opening up his own firm; his obituary recounted that he received
many Certifications and Charters, was a President and Chairman
for many minor offices and councils. I loved to learn that he was survived
by many. And in lieu of flowers, anonymous memorials
could be made to either a medical research institute or to a church,
at the personal discretion of all those mourning.
To tell you the truth,
ever since my father died, Larry’s calls have become more frequent
and demanding. Before even picking up the phone I knew Larry
would turn out to be an automaton; yet for a second, I admit,
I wanted to keep the Life Underwriter on my lonely line,
to put him on speaker as I skipped pebbles across the Lake,
seeing how far they would go, wondering if I might nick the bloated corpses
of the armies macerating in the water. I was curious about that programmed pitch
in his self-executed voice, the scant register of death inveigling me
into his scam. Larry’s first words were so strained and so electric,
like a script suddenly wrenched into life, forced to become a character.
He reminded me of a fresh machine submerged underwater
spluttering back into language. Was he a ghost too eager to apologise
for a life I had yet to live? It was all conjectural, of course,
the tethered cable between two wet worlds, the battle that either did

or did not take place near the Lake, even the death of my father,
if you can believe it, was no more,
no less real than the man haunting me on the other end.



“Sky Soldier” won first place in The London Magazine‘s Poetry Prize 2021/22. For the latest on literary prizes and competitions from The London Magazine, sign up to our newsletter. The above piece also features in our April/May 2022, which is out now. To buy as a single issue, go here.

Jay Gao is the author of Imperium (2022), forthcoming from Carcanet Press, as well as three poetry pamphlets. He is a Contributing Editor for The White Review, and is studying for an MFA at Brown University. He currently splits his time between Providence, Rhode Island, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

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