There are boxes where there used to be a bed. Dust on hardwoods have made a chalk outline, inside the frame is the story of this room. Shelves are empty. Dressers have been stripped of drawers. You finish the last of the rum straight from the bottle–your glasses are already packed away. This is the law of subtraction colliding with the inevitability of time. Decades of collecting, chasing, and want are so quickly and quietly stored away–parts of you reduced to cardboard boxes, permanent markers, and bubble wrap. You have been extracting yourself from this thicket of thorns over several weeks. You take days off of work whether you have the sick leave to do it or not–your clock is ticking down there as well so fuck it. You remove your half-thoughts from the attic. The projects you never got to in this house. You descend three floors, finish this sentence in stacks.
You make your bed on Saturday mornings with an obsessive eye to detail. It’s the little things you fuss over when no else is there to consider them that makes all the difference. Your old man’s a Navy guy and could bounce a quarter off his bed–or so he says. You pass your hand between comforter and bed frame. The edges are plush and you smooth out wrinkles. Your coffee has breath, it rises into the light to dance with particles floating in the shade-railed sunshine. This bed was the last thing you bought before you headed west. Someone else’s family heirloom, priced to sell. You take a dust cloth to the headboard. Clean. It’s butterscotch stain and single piece of hardwood have a history predating you. You fold the comforter at the top, the undersheet exposed, like a hotel. You fold yourself into a book. Sit on the floor next to your bed and listen to the heat kick on.
You are sleeping on an ex-girlfriend’s red leather couch in a mutual friend’s living room. At some point you woke up from under the picnic table outside, finished the last of the claret, and managed to make it inside. You have creased the cover of “A Fan’s Notes.” You’re pretty sure Frederick Exley wouldn’t mind. He would get it. He gets you right now. You left arm is a season of bruises. A new friend has been calling all morning. Your phone is a chapbook of bad ideas pawned off as random dispatches to ghosts living and dead–composed between the hours of 1 and 4 in the morning. You are pretty sure it’s Saturday by the amount of street noise seeping through the window. You don’t bother rinsing out the wine glass. There’s a fresh pot of coffee on and some gaps in your night that need to be filled in or completely paved over.
If living in the midwest has taught you anything, it’s that the gym will be dead empty on a Sunday morning. You pass two churches on your drive–their parking lots have begun to swell to capacity. Only Wal-Mart looks busier. You spend a whole hour just on the stationary bike. This morning, you are listening to a message sent from the high school mixtape you–a playlist of Black Flag, Mudhoney, Fugazi, The Replacements–two hours of your first, best poets. The cathedral of vitriol has found redemption in the rage. You are the burn and ache of elevated hearts. You clench your fists around free weights. You are the kinetic reactionary release of letting go. The tank inside empties. Exhale. Tenderhooks which sunk deep into lean tissue to keep you tangled and bloody have been ripped clean from you. Pain radiates like a satellite passing over a starless sky, slowly acquiescing to morning. By the time the young professional gym rats begin to wander in, you are already wiping down a treadmill. You can feel the hot insistent throb of memory in your neck slowly recede. You put your head down, grab your keys from the rack and start your morning.
This bar is full of locals, but it’s the only one you know in this part of Charm City. When you see her, you can tell she’s got as much of a story to tell as you do. Somehow neither of you share but yet you share. Her eyes are as tired as you feel. You are a shoulder and a bottle. She is a shoulder and a glass. There may have been a poem or a song or a book or a film. Common ground. You both laugh, and it’s a laugh with exhaustion in its spine. Her hair is lighter than you remember.
The first thing you notice is the sound of her footsteps. It’s like the rest of the noise in the cafe is turned down slightly to accent echo. It’s the sound of someone walking into your life. Her hair is punjabi prime red and she’s wearing a brown dress. You forget what poems are for just a moment. Later, she removes a dead leaf from your collar. It’s October and
It’s the end of the winter but the weather is in denial. You can’t hold back spring. If you play the song enough, you firmly believe Tom Waits has enough magic in his voice to bend nature to his will. He is elemental in the way that chance is an agent of change.
You are in your cousin’s basement. The last of your life neatly packed away and covered by blue tarps. Somehow this makes sense. The whole of your personal history is underground. Cinderblock. Cement. Stacked on pallets stolen from a Home Depot. It’s everything you could take and nothing that you ultimately can possess. Your world will fit neatly into two, maybe three bags. You will learn to travel light. You will learn that all those poems and songs and movie lines are inscribed in your best handwriting along your ribcage. You open the cellar door and day spills down into the stairs. You are climbing out of this life and you don’t even know it yet.
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, The Hawaii Pacific Review, PANK Magazine, Five Quarterly, and The Minnesota Review. For an audio version of this column, check out: www.soundcloud.com/whoismisterjim. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.