You never had to travel very far outside yourself to have doubt. There’s so much you have to unlearn about yourself. Some days, it feels more like rehearsal than progress. You catch yourself distorted in the curve of the windshield. You see your eyes letterboxed by a rearview mirror–milky sick and imbued with a growing pink nebula wrapping itself around your iris. A pale cosmos, blinking to clear away tired miles. You aren’t watching headlights crawling behind you. You aren’t much interested in the sailor sun offering warnings to another tomorrow of nearly three digit degrees. Your eyes like a poured pint. There is so much surface tension. You figure out just how much can be contained.
The affluent always live on the west side of town because it’s upwind from the factories.
For someone who used to write Clash and Bad Brains lyrics in the margins of textbooks, you learned to live life beneath a thumb relatively fast. Not like you are proud of this fact. Not like you didn’t see it happening. You would like to revise this portion of your story, but you can’t. Not like the folks who know you now knew you then. You were plied with titles and accolades–plied with meals and drinks–links in a chain. Not that it felt like a chain. Not like you didn’t know your yard. Just enough length. A desk. A business card. Access. Just enough access. Not like you needed more than a steady paycheck and a little status too…Not that you didn’t like being the right hand man. What is the use of right hand man if your boss is a southpaw? Not that it was so clear. Not that you didn’t learn or grow. Not that you always felt like you were held back. Not like you didn’t enjoy the perks. Not like you didn’t have another drink. Not like you didn’t take a free meal. Not like you didn’t mind the spotlight. Not like you weren’t happy in the shadow. Not like you didn’t do your job. Not like you didn’t do what you were told. Not like you didn’t take what you were given. Not like you didn’t let it bother you. Not like it didn’t let you bother it. Not like you didn’t grow. Not like you didn’t need your ego hemmed in just a little. Not like you believed in yourself. Not like you didn’t believe in yourself. Not like you didn’t speak up. Not like you didn’t handle it well when you were told to wait–to not be in a hurry–to do your job beyond your job. Not like you didn’t hear your friends and peers stand up for you. Not like you didn’t stand up for yourself. Not like you felt guilty. Not like you didn’t stay loyal. Not like you didn’t stay yourself. Not like you didn’t stay. Not like you stayed. Not like you, at all. Not now, anyway.
Eight years in a dumpster. Old business cards bookmark unread books.
Grapevine legs on a single twin. You are in a motel that still uses keys. Full ashtrays, empty bottles. She untangles. Sitting on the edge of your bed, she smokes the rest of last night away. Laying back, she tells you words which will eventually find their way into a poem: “It’s just a matter of fact, Asian boys don’t fit right inside white girls.”
Gas station bananas. Third shift nurses buying lottery tickets.
You turned on the charm for the overnight desk clerk to get a room for next to nothing–which is also a pretty apt description of this hotel on the Ohio border. There are empty Miller Lite cans floating in the ice machine. Your bathroom smells like an armpit after 45 minutes of cardio. A pair of kids are running around the parking lot. Their mother watches from above. She has moved a chair out in front of her room. Door propped open. You’ll see her in the morning, loading up three plates of waffles, danishes, sausages, and donuts. She is effortless in constructing this breakfast pyre. She comes back down, pours two orange juices and a cup of coffee. She sits down at the table across from you in the dining room, where you look up from your oatmeal long enough to notice that she’s looking at your copy of “The Air Conditioned Nightmare.” She looks at you, doesn’t smile, and finishes her coffee. She pours herself a second cup and carries the drinks to her room.
Unmade beds. Unmade beds.
The page, the stage, the highway, and the classroom all have the same thing in common for you. You always curl your toes inside your shoes, grip into the ground. You build a foundation from your knees to your backbone. Fill your lungs with air and your spine with fire. Drink deep. You drink deep with anticipation. You think about The Rites of Spring song, “Drink deep, it’s just a taste and it might not come this way again/I believe in moments, transparent moment, moments in grace when you’ve got to stake your faith.”
You used to worry that they would see you stagger slightly in that breath–that they wouldn’t understand all the doubt you are drawing in to bury deep.
Revolution Summer. Labor Day weekend.
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, Midwestern Gothic, and The Minnesota Review. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.