The highway opens an asphalt vein and spills hot tar along the shoulder. It’s fresh enough for you to debate whether or not this is a recently re-paved portion of the turnpike or the August afternoon is boiling the road beneath you. Eighteen wheelers power by you, leaning on the hood of a broke-down Chevy Beretta. You were Philly-bound, on the way to apartment hunt in Manayunk–a few years before its gentrified ripeness. Instead, you wait for a tow truck, about fifteen minutes from the 476/276 interchange, where the Northeast Extension spills into The Mid-County mainline toll plaza, heading towards the suburbs of Philly and beyond. This is the second in what will prove to be a habitual string of roadside rescues with the two-door college present from the parents. You wanted sportier–you had driven a powder blue Dodge minivan for the better part of seven years until junior year when it vomited orange coolant in a Turkey Hill mini-mart parking lot. You were hungover then, and you are hungover now. You throw your Phillies cap into the field, it vanishes into summer corn.
Boy Scout knife
blood wells in
the cutting board
There’s a Dixie Diner in the middle of the vast wasteland that is I-55 between Chicago and Central Illinois. You lean against a gas pump and watch the horizon unfold in all directions. The soybean fields. The windmill farms. The silos rotting in Midwestern distress. The farms vanishing into a halo of dusk. The steady stream of highway life. You have a car full of home and a back ache. Your Chevy Sonic sags with the weight of vinyl, books, and laundry. There are fireflies rising from the summer ahead. Moving constellations, flicker with a semi-permanence. Your friends stand in the shadow of the neon sign, waiting in their car–also full of your life. By the time you arrive in town, it’ll be too late to get into your new apartment, so you grab a room on the edge of town. It’ll be so different than the downtown hotel you stayed in during your job interview. From the ninth floor window, you could stare down at the one way streets, watch Lincoln’s shadow stretch across East Adams Street, edging out near his tomb, and the only hill in town. The high-point of the capital city rising from flatlands is reserved for the dead.
bio-diesel truck stop waitress breaks a nail
You were a late bloomer when it came to drinking and it made you the perfect designated driver. Maybe it was watching a coal mine town chew through the family liver–probably it was a fear of losing control. You had an unnamed lack of restraint simmering quietly inside, but for the time being, driving roommates home worked for you. Saturday night was already coming undone for you–choosing to be a college dj at the studio instead a college student in the bar. Sometimes you learned more in those three hours alone with CDs and vinyl than you did all week in class. You were riding shotgun for someone else’s Saturday night–the soundtrack for a highway running along to your music. The occasional request from friends–partying or working: Fugazi or Parliament or The Ramones. Maybe it’d be a set of Prince. A veiled message in an Afghan Whigs song–or the single innuendo of The Cramps. You were laying out a roadmap for someone else’s night. You left the studio and headed directly to an off-campus party, to retrieve the drunks for dinners and apologies. Your powder blue minivan was the perfect personnel carrier. The night ended in your sliding door coming off the track and an argument with your girlfriend. After an hour of foggy MacGyver-drunk science, somehow your door was on enough to cart everyone home. You stood in the student parking lot looking at the broken door way past last calls. Your girlfriend joined you under the streetlight and was quiet. She staggers back to the dorm, vanishing behind a sweeping security door. Everything you fix will break eventually.
praying to a lead
Jim Warner is a Contributing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program 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, New South, and Smartish Pace. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.