Expressway Bar Poem
Darts and pinball, dim-brick panel,
hair nation jukebox cranking classic rock;
bass sloth-walk a static rainstorm
rattling the walls. Blue-collar brethren
drown baby blues with Jack and Morgan:
bottles and Keno an outstretched arm away.
I scry cigarette fibs like the best of them:
Tall tales, children moved to Anywhere, USA.
Silver-tongued barkeep rebukes with facts –
while pool cues crack across the din.
Come on Eileen, enjoy sports on the screen,
waste hours away in yesterday glory ‘til two AM
sneaks like a warm bourbon hiccup.
And I, old enough to drink,
child enough to sleep around eleven,
chug flashing Open sign neon at the threshold.
Bitter northern air assures my sobriety
as the concrete bridge hushes whispers from
traffic aimlessly stalking the dark. West,
Elementary school sleeps silent amongst
snug Halcyon homes from prosperous times,
and I’m stumbling back to childhood
when I spied these bricks from down the street,
wondering what the bar was really like –
If Cheers montage really captured
recycled gossip, each with a different twist.
Satisfied, I stumble into my rusted truck,
feeling like a regular already.
Build to Suit
There is a kind of weed, a thin
silver weed invasive as those phragmites
lining the river, the kind whose
stalks wave tiny red squares
above the vacant tilled soil,
signaling deep rubber tracks
and a duplex built by numbers.
They creep ever closer towards
the field across my childhood home –
the last westward field where, at night,
township illuminates a distant treeline
beneath a backdrop of summer stars.
Introducing: The Chocolate Starfish
While our elders at Monday catechism
threw a Hail Mary at our waning attention
by presenting Creed’s song “Higher”
as a Christian song,
a paunch pre-teen boy whispered dirty jokes
to anyone who’d listen,
collecting our giggles and gasps
like a used car salesman.
Four years of stitching
the Word of the Lord
onto the hairshirts woven
by our parents and theirs before
undone by a couple questions:
You know they mean
by a chocolate starfish, right?
Ever heard of a blowjob?
I don’t remember his name
but his voice –
like he’d been smoking
in the boys’ room since birth –
reverbs to this day.
Shaved head giving off
ex-con vibes in middle school –
It was impossible for us
not to follow his words
down the glory hole.
Maybe his parents tracked
the star of religious ed
to our little brick building
wishing he’d stop growing up so fast.
Maybe they dumped him here
while they drank some hot dog-
flavored water of their own
uninterrupted for a couple hours.
The giggle nuance between mischief
and innuendo is subtle
but easy to distinguish,
and our elders knew they lost us for good.
We never saw paunch Marlboro boy again,
the rest of us carrying
the forbidden seeds he planted
and the next day,
at the lockers,
on the playground,
this strange fruit grew higher
to a place
Eleanor sat on mortality’s fence
for a decade at least, patient as birds
people-watching from a powerline
as she waited for her husband Alban,
years deceased but young again,
rustic arms from old Scandinavia
lifting her heavy body over the threshold
of an acrid nursing home
to their homestead on Liberty Road.
The new credit union’s parking lot
gained ground on her backyard.
Her worn brick grill, her patchwork
animal shacks, whelmed by weeds
and moss, sparing the asparagus patch.
The moment her body joined the earth,
the strip club’s ancient seal broke
after years pounding Eleanor’s property line
like a jilted lover and finally,
age limits couldn’t keep me out.
Inside, Incubus sang Nice to Know You.
Taut barmaids balanced drinks in the aisles
while beady eyes and blushing beards
leaned closer to a gyrating dancer
breathless, like a final play of the game.
I thought I felt Eleanor’s presence nearby,
even then, watching Night Court,
reminiscing about Helen Busey,
waiting on me to water plastic plants
for a quarter. I ran outside
after a lapdancer hustled my last twenty
and leaped the divider wall.
Her house dark as the club
and the powerline, free of birds.