By the third song, she was a seasick sweaty mess of nerves. She pulled her hoodie up over her head and crawled into her world. Ocean of feedback. Blue pools from a light tree. The band on a rusting bandshell. There were arms without bodies and voices without faces. She leaned into the guardrail before moving out of eyeshot. She was consumed by the heaving crowd. You found her a few songs later, leaning against an abandoned storefront, the din of drums and amps lost to street sounds on a Saturday night in a druggy side of town. Her eyes were black saucers eclipsing her azure irises. You had coffee from a gas station, and kept the conversation to a minimum. A few months later, you heard that she had slipped away into that clandestine part of a weekend. She lived inside that Quiksilver hoodie for months. After you had already left town, color returned to her face. You see her in the absence recovery creates. Even in her pictures, you cannot make eye contact.
thumbtacks in the sand
You joke with a friend about how easy it used to be when you were careless. Consumption and cauterize. Self-medication. You have slowly removed your crutches over the last few years, began walking with a hobbled gait. It did catch up to you. When everyone watched and cheered you on, it felt like a public validation. This was how you would turn the corner, pick up speed, and head towards the horizon. But if the Midwest has taught you anything, it has instructed you on distance. Void of landmarks, the signposts in the distance never feel closer. You misjudged the journey. You have begun to falter. Your doctor reminds you of all your progress, all the hard work to get healthy. You care and feel guilty about not taking as good care of yourself as you had been. You eat at your desk. You stay up later and later. Discipline cannot hinge like a door. Your disappointments accumulate and you mistake them as setbacks.
Snap a pill in half. 12.5mg of Carvedilol. Twice a day. Chalk and almonds. You take your heart medication with coffee. Eggs burn to the bottom of a pan. You were watching for an owl who used to perch on your fence last winter. You last saw him in late November. There is ice everywhere. The apartment smells like smoke for rest of the morning and well after you come home from work. You are sitting cross-legged on the floor concentrating on your breathing. Your spine flickers like a lit match in the pitch black. Your skin crawls while night drags a blanket of broken bottles across your back; late night white noise from a time where stations ended their broadcast days with the star spangled banner, a test pattern, and an undulating salt-pepper ocean of static. Gaps appear to widen in your day, a spillover rich with the anxiety of waiting absently.
paper weights these jets are constellations
Your second summer away from home meant you were late to hear about XX. They found his body wrapped in surf and bruises. He left school early for Silicon Valley. You were third person friends by this point. You remember the first time you meet him–he was getting a breathing treatment in the nurse’s office. Plastic tubing, minty vapor clouding his cough. Your young lungs betrayed you both. There were a handful of fits and starts–bus rides about music and teen angst. He had A.P. Calc and you were drawing band logos on your graphing calculator with a sharpie. You opted for lunch in the art room with NPR and black coffee. You traveled in parting circles. You had secondhand friends with First World problems, but you had already begun committing hours to pages not people. The Venn diagram narrowed to an eclipsed moon. You didn’t even go home for any of the services. You sat in a third shift dive bar, wondering about California. You had gone there once when you were fourteen. There were so many places you had left to see, but so many more that would evaporate along the rim of a pint.
of broken branches
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 Smartish Pace. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.