The only times you get together are for weddings and funerals. It doesn’t give away your age, just your distance. If you had stayed, would it have mattered? There are nearly eighteen years between the two of you. The three of you. The ten of you. Everyone from your hometown. That chasm only gets wider. Not deeper. You are all still close, but in the way that preserves life in amber. It’s a prehistory to everyone out here who matters to you in your present tense in Central Standard Time. You forget your hometown life isn’t even the most recent life you left behind. It was just the first of many.
Third person limited. Empty a box onto a bookshelf.
What carries you quiets you. Last night, you were walking near a cornfield. But this isn’t your hometown. You are standing at the edge of commercial farming. Soybeans and corn. Acres of farmland jutted against the ever developing west side of the city. An orange halo of lights from the various big box shops and malls color the horizon–a neon sunset in the wrong direction. You already know that you will fold your condolences and prayers into a letter. Your words reconstitute the ashes of a flag surrendered to a burning youth no longer noble or ignorant–just a matter of fact.
Slow dance of headlights. Her breath on your windshield.
You saw her one time. Home from college. Buying groceries. You get coffee. The only donut shop in town. So much stillness. She writes your name in spilled sugar, pours milk into your coffee. Her eyes are caramel swirls of a semester abroad and foreign boyfriends. You talk about that birthday, those teachers, this summer, last summer. You think about the parallel blue lined paper of your notebook at home. The snow collects in hair. She has always been porcelain. If you had stayed, would it have mattered? She knows you’re in your head too fucking much. No embrace. No goodbye. Your parents’ house smells like roasted chestnuts and pine. They left the Christmas lights on. The angel atop the tree has a burnt out bulb. You fall asleep on the couch watching the Twilight Zone.
Gold key around her neck. Climbing a chain link fence.
Your hands sunk into the mud, and came up pulling punches. A circle had formed around the two of you. The band keeps playing. The world rings in your ears–got hot and distant. Blush of embarrassment. You go out alone and even the buttons of your shirt have abandoned you. They are cheap plastic pearls in fresh cut grass–the only part of this lawn not a bog of red solo cups and rain. How can you be only an hour away from home and it feels like another planet now? If you had stayed, would it have mattered? If you stayed down, what then? Your lip tastes like iron. The song ends and backs turn on you–face the stage. He slides his arm around his girl, grabs another beer. You can feel the cold through your jeans and into your knees. A cloudburst, a song, and then all of this which has swelled around you releases its energy and vanishes. You will be someone else’s amusing anecdote–both anonymous and memorable.
Church bazaar beer tents. Dipping dirty fingers into Holy Water.
You are crowded into the frame, shoehorned onto a couch, spilling over to the floor–a birdnest of limbs. Only two or three of you are looking at the camera. The remainder of the Gordion knot feeling needles and pins numbness creep into their arms. Holding the ocean in focus. It’s the end of another night in an endless parade of smalltown summers. If you had stayed, it wouldn’t have mattered. You are always on the crest of one wave, unable to anticipate how it breaks along the beachhead, disperses its energy, only to be reabsorbed in the undertow–pulling itself out to sea to begin the process all over.
A shoebox of photographs. Another wrong number.
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.