You work in the shadow of Lincoln’s tomb; a winding drive to a crypt on the only hill in town. An industry of memorials and mourning. Commercial farming and silos skyscrape the forty minutes between town and city. Snowfall breaks up the fallow-branched two lane Route 48. Grocery shopping on a Friday night. Your grandfather hated pocket change and you have amended his pet peeve to fit your mood. You toss pennies in parking lots. They suspend like questions when they catch the light, but ultimately vanish in tiny clatters and wet pavement.
Pawn shop crate digging, you bring Karen Carpenter’s face close to yours. Staring back from a record sleeve, she has candlewax features. Her cheeks house echos of a song sung to no one else. Milk crates line the floors. There is a slight ringwear to the record–a halo of dust drawn around her portrait. Bargain bins and quarter crates are monuments to neglect. The first time you heard “Superstar” was when Sonic Youth covered it. Her eyes follow you as you continue to dig for cheap treasure. She died ten days before Valentine’s day in 1983. They buried her in a rose-colored suit.
open car door
she wipes her mouth
with your sleeve
There is a part of you that knows once you seal the envelope, she’ll actually be gone–as if the life you know with her in it becomes fully severed by posting condolences. A friend of the family, she died quietly surrounded by loved ones while you were crossing Ohio into Indiana. It says so much about your hubris–or your fears. You are on the other side of the fulcrum. The last time you were home, you weren’t empty-handed. There are boxes upon boxes you keep adding to–taking up space in your cousin’s basement. You think you’re keeping only what you need, but at the bottom of a Saturday night, you sit in front of a record shelf, looking for a song packed away and far from here.
in a storm drain
So many of your revisions start with unmade beds and hotel mornings. Fourth floor, your window nearly stretches floor to ceiling. It stares into an obsidian spike in the heart of the Cream City’s Third Ward. Construction is rebuilding downtown exits and off-ramps. Thirty years ago this city was considered dead and its carcass unfit for vultures, but after only a weekend here you know better. Cranes reach into the dirty cotton sky–they’re calling for a wintery mix for your drive back to Illinois. You polish your shoes by the light of the television, muted so you can listen to Morning Edition. The room has its own Keurig. A strange intersection of nearly making it and uncertainty. Your stomach is seafoam and thin ice.
tonal pin stripe
the elevator door
carries your reflection
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, New South, [PANK], and The Minnesota Review. He also thinks you should be listening to Strand of Oaks. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.