Poem of the Week | April 04, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Love Locks” by Kieron Walquist.

Kieron Walquist is a queer, neurodivergent writer and MFA candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. His work appears, or is forthcoming, in Cider Press Review, Gulf Coast, Puerto del Sol, Small Orange, Swamp Ape Review, and others. He lives in Missouri.


Love Locks

                On May 14th, 2010, Robert Nichols overpowered two
                juvenile authorities while riding in a car over the
                northbound bridge out of Jefferson City. When the car
                stopped, he jumped out and plunged more than 50 feet into the
                Missouri River. He was handcuffed and shackled at the ankles.

                               — KRCG 13

For 6.7 million, the bike path was constructed,
coddled like a roller-rink-birthday child,

& now cantilevers on the busy Jefferson City
bridge. Open to all, except fenced off & staked out

on the 4th, the Capitol building & its fireworks show
at center stage, too close — as if brushstrokes of salt

& thunder may wow a patriot right over, into a river
the color of cardboard. A river burdened by sand

barges, dredging boats, & timber flotsam — huge as house
demolitions. Up on the path, where sunlight & shadows

frill from all that needlework (arches, trusses,
steeple-tall steel), I run my hands along the locks.

& I think of Robby. What he’d say about the railing,
adorned like the Pont des Arts. About the act. To hook

the horseshoe part through a chain-link eye, snap it
shut, & pull out the key (a brass jawbone held between

thumb & index) only to throw it over & lose it. All
for a metaphor of love. Commitment. Imagine if

he survived the fall, the terrible impact. Surfaced.
Swam handcuffed to the riverbank. Dragged

himself—young muscles ululating—up. Waded
the deep suck, the slurry, the shit. Climbed the eroding

slope, fought brush wicked as razors, & crossed
the railroad, soon hopped a train to St. Louis

Rode atop a boxcar — one warm & night-slick
with coal. Imagine, for ten years, Robby evades

capture (gets a haircut, a job at a pizza parlor,
a coworker to offer him a couch) & never

goes back to juvey or jail. But returns, someday,
to the bridge. Walks along the lane that shakes

a little from traffic & sees the railing,
scaled as a reptile. The locks rusting.

What would he say of such love?
What would he say to me?

In the wedding-lace of afternoon light, a riot
& ricochet of birds overhead, I imagine Robby

comes for me as I decorate my own lock
onto the mess of metal, to remember

I was loved once by a man, & while still shackled,
Robby strikes my chest, over & over, his hands

together like in prayer, crying:
where’s the key the key the key?


Author’s Note

Raised in a small, farming town outside Jefferson City, I’m fascinated by the landscape and our human interaction with it. The beauty and burden, meeting. How, even in ruin, there can be radiance. I remember, as soon as the pedestrian path was completed, we put padlocks along the fencing and threw keys into the river. “Love Locks” came after, while walking the path — realizing the harm, sometimes, in love, loss, landscape, and history, and the way we memorialize it all.