Psalm for a Full Tank of Gas

by Joy Clark

issue 71

Can we get someone to turn down the music? No, Sam, I am not too drunk to be standing on this chair. Don’t tell me to climb down again. Don’t act like you can’t see that I’m here. I’m here. Here I am to proclaim the fucking miracles of the Lord and to say: hold up, listen. Know this: that the Lord reigns over I-20 at 3 a.m. in the morning. He saw my Corolla sitting in a ditch with semis rushing past, rattling prayers out of asphalt. He saw my torn hose and ant-bitten shins. He didn’t look away, even though the angels were fluttering around His face like moths, and even though there was only me and some roadkill as far as yonder goes.

The Lord’s got a sharp-tuned ear. The Lord hears when crickets orgasm, and He heard the last cough of my Corolla as it finally hit empty and rolled to a stop.

Could y’all give me a break from your yammering a second? No, I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness. And no, I’m not on speed. Open your ears. Can’t a bitch praise for a moment?

Praise the Lord who gave me this bubble backside that I fall on most days. Praise Him for the cushioned landing. Praise the Lord for the mountains of late-night diner food that went into this ass, for waffles and chicken fries and Velveeta queso, and praise Him for the perfect spandex skirt, the skirt I found at Goodwill. Praise the bourgeois club girls throwing out their clothes because they dripped a little ketchup on the thigh. Lord, have they not heard of Tide to go Instant Stain Remover? I mean, come on. Praise for Tide to go.

Praise the Lord of wobbling and twerking. Praise the Lord of hips that might as well be jelly, for bass so loud that you’re jiggling even when you’re standing still. Praise Him for the jiggle, the wild dance of what was once corn cakes and jambalaya now just ricocheting off your bones, thrilled to still be kickin’ it with you.

And for The Door, for that dirty venue with holes in the walls and perpetually-clogged toilets, for all the bands and DJs I’m embarrassed to name that I’ve seen there. Praise the Lord for shitty music and too much eyeliner, for lipstick smeared on plastic cups, for the way men still look in skinny jeans even when they’re having to dye their graying roots. Praise the Lord that He made them vain enough to keep wearing skinny jeans even when they should probably move on from those acid-washed vasectomies. Praise Him for those of you daring your circulation to stop right here with just the right combination of fried fish and denim, just for the glory of your asses.

For I am hashtag blessed. I am hashtag truly blessed. I am hashtag praising the Lord for the many ways I’ve been blessed since I woke up this morning, afflicted with the blues that you get when you’ve been working at minimum wage for too long, when your breath smells like the primordial ooze they call breakroom coffee, when you’ve been living in your friend’s basement for a year now, forced to share a bed with their dog Buster, who is possessed by an entire congregation of fleas.

Listen. The Lord has super eyesight. He sees right down to skeletons, which are yawning, which are falling asleep and forgetting how to move. The Lord will prod. He’ll poke. He puts a thirst in the chest that can only be quenched with European remixes of Kanye and Usher.

Praise the Lord for every step taken towards the club, even the ones going backwards or sideways, the drunk-bladder hopscotch outside a gas station toilet, the mile-long walk from my car because I didn’t want to pay twenty dollars for valet parking. Praise the Lord for free parking in abandoned gas station lots, even if you have to creep your way around buildings and dart across freeways like Indiana Jones.

Praise for the other women in the bathroom line at The Door, for the messenger of the Lord who told me, “Those shoes are dope,” for the frat-boy prophet of the Lord who yelled, “Get crunk,” for the Lord in his infinite weirdness speaks through donkeys and flames, and sometimes reflective glass, and sometimes bass guitars, and sometimes even me. Hell yes. Rejoice.

You ever get lost in the woods outside your friend’s house, taking a walk to just try to clear your head, pushing at brambles and baby branches all sprung and crazy and in your business? Getting scratched up by the underbrush, bit by mosquitoes, and starting to wonder if anything you ever try to do just for yourself is worth it? Because every time you begin to launch a life something goes wrong: you take the pill because you’re scared and turn up pregnant anyway, then your boyfriend dumps you for someone named Katrina, just like the hurricane that sent you to this shit-biscuit town in the first place, and maybe you didn’t lose just your family home that late summer, didn’t just lose your dad’s record collection, didn’t just lose your cat, Iggy, whose body was never found, but something else, too. Those weeks standing in line at the Superdome, always waiting for water or news of your family, who could have been dead for all you knew, rioters on one side, assault rifles on the other, some squatting to shit anywhere, some exposing themselves to children because nothing mattered. That late summer you were a bitch, not in the badass way you wanted, but doglike, cowed, hungry. Twice while you were sleeping against the wall, you woke to some stranger above you, someone who wanted to take the power from your body, plug into you like an outlet. You thought: nothing matters. You thought: I’m dead. Once, you were knocked to the ground, and your right hand was crushed, breaking the bird-fine bones of your fingers. And ever after you hated drinks called hurricanes, hated people called hurricanes, hated hurricanes called hurricanes.

You ever walk faster and faster into a part of the woods that looks dark? As though the deeper you go, the more your ability to transform, to become animal, feral? And all of a sudden you stumble out into a clearing where a bunch of wild plum trees are growing, and it’s just that time of the year when they’re loaded with blue-purple fruit, clustered like fat grapes around one another, twined by honeysuckle and bees losing their ever-loving minds, humming over the sexiness of it all? And you think to yourself: I need to dance. This skeleton still moves.

No really, I’m almost done. And listen, it’s not the beer speaking.

Because the Lord, He sings in the shower. The Lord, He knows how to get low. The Lord, He taught us to pray any way we can, any place we can.

When I left The Door last night, a man followed me outside. He told me to stop. He told me he just wanted a minute. I kept walking. My cell phone was dead. When I heard him behind me, I tried to run, but I stumbled onto my knees. There wasn’t a streetlight or headlight to see. I got up and kept running, thinking about the man’s legs, longer than mine.

Listen: the Lord has hands that can bend back the sky like a blanket, and He kept that man back until I could get in my car and drive.

I drove on and on, not thinking about the empty-tank light flashing on my dashboard until the car seized up and I was on the side of the road, heels off, trying to flag down one of the passing trucks. I put on emergency lights and waved a white bag. No one stopped for me. It seemed darker than night. I stepped into an ant bed, and angry mouths tore up my ankles.

My legs on fire, my car off the road, I wanted to cry but I started laughing instead. I sat in the driver’s seat thinking: you stupid, you stupid, you stupid woman. You immature, you pathetic, you sad little no one, out here alone. Lord help you, you just had to go dancing. For a minute it felt like what I had learned of myself last summer would continue to be true: I’m buried and no one’s going to dig me out.

But the Lord sent some of those bored, moth-like angels down. I swear I almost saw them. Butter-yellow and bobbing to keep out of my peripheral. A hunch hit me. I put my fingers to the ignition and the car started right up. My needle went from Empty to Full, holy gasoline to keep me going, all the way back to Louisiana, all the way to this bar and BBQ, where I can dig up my old dead body and shimmy with her.

What, you don’t believe me? You don’t have to. I’m believer enough for the both of us.

The Lord, He gets shit done. Don’t be dumb. Praise Him for late nights and long roads, praise Him for filling these bone-dry craters with enough fuel to get you to morning, for stopping your enemies, for getting your gears going and your hips moving and your feet stomping and your wheels rolling—no wait, let me finish!—praise for the things that are dead and still being resurrected, like my feet, like my lips, like punk rock and crop tops, like boogies, like blues, like psalms and prayers, like me telling you: I will not shut up. Amen.