If they wanted you gone from work, or knew you were someone who couldn’t hang in social work, they sent you to work with families on Sambourne. It was an unwritten but understood assignment. If you had a sick client and were in the office, best make yourself busy with filing paperwork, or reviewing case files, or volunteering for coverage elsewhere. Taking a nap in the breakroom? Sambourne. Working hard at looking busy? Sambourne. Not liked? Sambourne. Sometimes it wasn’t even a matter of dislike or breaking a newbie in–facts are facts and you knew the wheel turns on all without consideration to station or status. You saw enough that it would follow you home from work some days, fix a drink while you showered, and assured you that the next glass would coat the memory of the day enough with a thickening veneer of forget that you would be able to head back into its maw tomorrow.
Count to ten. Vacant row homes burn to the ground.
There is a quiet prayer of unmaking embedded in our chemistry. So random when that prayer is heard by the body, it feels too random to be fate. At the least, it’s random to us now. Maybe later the curtain will be drawn back, the magic trick revealed. Sleight of hand passing through smoke and mirrors. Rimshot. Polite applause. Tip of the hat. On to the next act. For now, we rely on the sacrament of isotopes and radiation to undo what’s overdone. Repeated. Expelled. Exponential growth. Invasion. We are steel blue mirrored glass buildings and garments opened to the back; two or three ties to conceal some dignity. We are turned inside out, illuminated by iodine dyes and contrasting conflicting conclusions. We amass words and language. We struggle like a tourist dropped into a foreign farmers market thousands of miles from home. We rely on practices and procedures who love us until the money runs out. Our range of understanding goes from nothing, to nearly nothing, to nothing else matters and back–a snowglobe shaken and shattered within a season of swinging hammers.
Scuff marks on the white storm door. Reading the Sunday paper on Tuesday.
The block feels abandoned in the noonday sun. Dented cars with primer panels. Garbage and stray cats. The sidewalk buckles and blossoms with weeds. Exposed brick and cardboard boxes pool with flies. They are waiting for you behind a screen door spilling daytime talk show gossip out onto the porch. It is the only sound you hear from the street. She washes a dirty mug to offer you coffee. You sit at the kitchen table still sticky from breakfast.
Coathanger bruises. Billable hours to the county.
We bury as much as we unearth. Childhood bedrooms understand the conservation of energy, so do high school yearbooks. There’s a reason why Springsteen is so popular. Transference. We have exchanged so much over time, looks to letters to photographs. A ledger of days, nothing truly owed to us which looks anything like balance. We dream in the black, wind up in the red. We sign over debts in blue ink. Print. Date. Duplicate. We are within a stockade of bills amassing like armies of spreadsheets and accountants. We ignore the calls. We hold hands a little tighter. It’s all that there’s left to do, in some such places, on some such nights. We are quicksand. We are all the grains passing through a fist. We are the most alive in that struggle. We are never the aftermath. We are never the consequences, just the truth. We are never the truth, just the dare. We are always and never as young as we are when we are committed to print or page.
Broken yard stick. Lead paint chipped windowsill.
Dirty diapers and bleach. A dog has tore up the carpet by the closet. It doesn’t bark as much as it froths. You and your partner take turns listening. And listening. And filtering. And looking around. Black mold on counter tops. The pizza boxes. She looks sideways at you. She has scabs on her knuckles. At 29, you are six years younger than her grandmother. Her daughter keeps taking your pen, draws stick figures and a lopsided house in blue ink. A cigarette on the porch. Rust creeps beneath black wrought iron rails. You can’t promise he’ll be gone long. You can’t promise anything, regardless how loud she gets. Even in her flail and wail, you both understand your roles here–a dance in a broken mirror. You tell her she has options. She can leave. There are places to go. Someone has stolen the stop sign at the end of the street. She doesn’t even bother to lock the door behind you.
Catching cold on unemployment. The leaves are finally turning color.
We are the labored breathing after a long fit of laughter. Chasing oxygen and careless. Weightless. There is a removal of chains and anchors only days like these can sling across shoulders. The room levitates all of us slightly–like the slight rise from a plummeting roller coaster. It’s the kind of infections involuntary fit which has a bottomless quality to it. We forget everything for just a few minutes and once it subsides, we are slightly more sturdy and steady. Such a tender tether to little miracles. It’s good to find release and better to know they are within reach.
Decay of feedback. Arms bathed in footlights.
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.