You imagine that this may be what Pompeii felt like–if you were fully aware of Vesuvius. Or Bourbon Street before Katrina. Or The Factory when Madchester remembered its true British destiny as Manchester. Scale becomes irrelevant. The only window into yourself is what you trade eyes with this morning. It’d be too easy to dredge the lake for perspective, and you will. You will because you always do–because you are still worried about the next song the band plays as it goes down with the ship. If you’re lucky, the best song you’ll ever hear is the next one they play. Isn’t that how we are born into the chase–life by what’s next rather than what’s come and what’s gone. It’ll go like your look and looks. Like your locks and luck. Like you. A voice rises like smoke to tell you to wait for what’s next. The sequence and series. Links in a chain. Less anchor than tether. More bond than bound.
Taillights in fog. History repeats itself.
You were taking apart your own desk. The boss skipped town–boom went bust. He would take his life a year or so later, drinking window wiper fluid in the back of his SUV. The industrial carpet never lost its new stale smell. Blue jumpsuits and cleaning crews. You were hungover and couldn’t work an Allen wrench. Your roommate was spinning and spinning in his office chair. He would go on to work a career in the private sector. Marketable degree in Computer Science. Obsessive. Perfectionist. You lose touch not much longer after graduation. You heard Baltimore. Lockheed Martin, maybe. You have been taking apart variations of the same work desk. You carry an Allen wrench in your coat pocket.
Empty turntable. Winter waits with a notebook and a flask.
Boxcars don’t roll, they tumble. Bones don’t rattle, they ache. When they finally built the casino on the desperation of the old harness race track, you spent an evening gambling with your ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, and your mutual friend’s husband. You’re pretty sure they are divorced now. You know for a fact your ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend is now your ex-girlfriend’s ex-new boyfriend. The only dice you shot prior were on campus weekends playing Dungeons and Dragons. Twenty sided chances–but almost as unlucky as a Thursday night, with a pair of future-tense ex’s, rolling virtual die with actual coin. You are only old enough to be just this foolish, once. Maybe twice. Maybe always. You are foolish enough only to be old. You know how dice are loaded. Drill into the die. Insert the nail. Paint over the dot. You will drill into the bone. You missed your charisma roll. You are luckiest when you don’t understand the game you are playing.
Count to five. The clock with the rusty hands.
If you stand still long enough, you will see everything end. You have been conditioned by several summers of comic book blockbusters to wait past the credits. You understand the red herring of the mid-credit reveal. The tag and turn of a stadium-seated hook–teasing out wait for the sequel, the next movie, the next season. You wait past one teaser, waiting for another. Lights rise like smoke to tell you to wait for nothing else. The ushers are sweeping out the debris. Popcorn, Sour Patch Kids wrappers, the spilled jumbo-sized Diet Coke. You are alone in a cinematic cathedral. Plush-backed chairs. Air conditioned overload. All the lights have come up on you and this empty theater. You are as alone as you have ever been, but not more alone than at any other point. You look into the gray canvas like it was a fog bank waiting for shapes to spill into form and cross the threshold, slightly lit by an Exit Sign.
Solitaire on the computer. Paper cuts and letter openers.
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.