Intervening on better judgement is risk. You and your armchair gambler’s heart have little use for statistics. You calculate by closing your eyes and taking a deep breath–like you’re trying to swallow whatever shadow doubt can occupy in such a well-lit room. Lead with the chin, but take it all to heart. Cold hands, soft skin. Close around the moment. Racking focus. Surround the frame with words escaping you right when you need them the most. Present. You are present enough to know that “if” and “when” are a rush hour intersection and you are about to cross into traffic against the light.
When the walls sweat with a desperate desire to stretch tonight beyond curfew’s legal and unyielding capacity, you lose yourself to the surging tide of arms and angst. One last song to bloody the throat. To find space within this claustrophobic writhing knot of serpentine bodies. You never thought November could be so humid. Your shirt clings to you like you’ve been standing in a downpour. The side of your face is a diminished throb. Come morning, you’ll have a Doc Marten shaped bruise from where you took a stray boot from a crowd surfer pushed back upon the front row. She has slid slightly away from you but tugs at your belt loop. How did she find her way back to you? This whole night you felt like twin wine bottles with unreadable messages drifting farther away from each other. She waits for you to
Résumés and poetry submissions both have cover letters. Lately you’ve had little luck with either. Lumps are taken. Confidence fissures. You try to deny the fact that you really want this job. Editor. Literary magazine. You just don’t know. You almost didn’t. Hope is a tiny candle left lit in the gathering weather inside you. How can you expect such little light to illuminate. You are a flicker to risk. What is another rejection? You need to know. You always need to know. It’s one of your best worst traits.
You didn’t know a handful of words could undo so many knots. You used to understand how legs could grapevine and fit so well. You unmade this just. You knew that what snags the heart on a sleeve also loosens its stitching. She slides what’s left across the coffee table. An apology swept beneath the sound of envelope gliding across maple. Risk the heart. Reward the soul. Sometimes. You’ll feel better. Later.
You are ready. John’s in a car waiting downstairs. So strange. You forgot, for just a moment, how to tie a tie. Half Windsor. Over. Under. Through. Pull. The silk on silk. Knot drawn to collar. You will pass by Lincoln’s tomb on your way to campus. You have only begun to consider the possibilities. You know yourself. So quick to get ahead of yourself. Your dad once told you that you walk to the pay window like you’ve already spent your money. You finger Elia’s rosary under your shirt–you wear her rosewood necklace as a reminder. Breath evens out. The meeting room has a crucifix. It is a Catholic university, after all. You are ready for
A silent boil. You flexed knuckles. You replayed the scenario in your mind for days afterwards. Different results. You’ll rewrite the anecdote later. It’ll get published. It’ll be half true and it’ll solve nothing. You think about what you didn’t say. Justify your inaction by saying you’re wiser. Mature. You know what the math of three skinheads and one Pinoy at a grocery store looks like. It’s only words, right. Everyone was just so quiet. Nothing happened.
Collars, ties, beds, and hearts are all made to be undone in sultry weather. Summerish Spring wilts. Fingers unbutton. Button up. Your hotel has a busted air conditioner. The Econo Lodge south of Columbus has an ice machine that keeps you up most of the night. You are an overthinker. It’ll keep you company but that’s about it. Berryman on your tongue, “We must travel in the direction of our fear.” Fear. Travel. Distance. Chance. Your wallet thanks you for not being into one-armed bandits or off-track betting.
You wait in the wings for an introduction. Standing room only. You were a three piece neurotic all damn day. Your bow tie, as crooked as your smile. That smile bothered you for years. A slight lip curl. Too much Elvis. Not enough you. Bullshit. This is all you ever were. You look at Carlo Matos. His energy and ferocity can barely be contained. He’s going to destroy this room with poetry. Amy. John. David. Joanna Beth. The interns. The House of Q. A magazine launch. You think about all those faces so gradual in their familial familiar to you. The chance these people took with you. How carefully careless they were in choosing you. Risk is a mutual endeavour. A walk into oncoming traffic. You know just enough. Lead with the chin.
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, PANK Magazine, Five Quarterly, and The Minnesota Review. “Risk the heart. Reward the soul.” -Pops Warner. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.