V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





A time-smudged railroad overpass
I haven't seen in a quarter century
still sells Valvoline to the sooty air
of Worcester, Massachusetts, ice fogs
and strange glitter of bar light
off the crusty downtown snow banks.
In the shadow of that iron cloud,
that slice of rust-flecked winter sky,
the bulletproof door of Nelligan's
remains to be heaved open again,
and its furnace of song to blast my face.

Marcy still clutches the mike stand
to keep from stumbling off the stage,
squinting orgasmically on the high notes.
As night deepens, they're all high notes.
Some girl with cadaver skin
and incense halo asks my sign, then grins:
"Pisces shake their asses!"  Right.

Unshaken, I shout my true desire
to the bartender, Ronnie Someone,
Marcy's cousin who sometimes subs
on bass.  He can converse in this inferno
of wobbly torch songs entirely
with deft nods and wise eyebrows.
What looks like Coke in his hand
is dark beer loaded with ice
in case the owner stops in.

Any minute now Carmen will corner me
in the tight hall near the john, clutch me 
like a puppy to her monumental chest, 
breathe vodka in my ear and suggest
a bathroom quickie.  Drunk enough
to be flattered, I tell her I'll always
remember her, as I have, though
I'm half convinced her name was Carla
and it might have happened instead
at one of Marcy's three-day house parties.

Whatever.  It all goes on furiously
because I'm not there to stammer
and gulp rum, to refuse a dance
or slither free of Carmen's wobbly arms.
I've misplaced most street names and
the nights tend to bleed.  Some of this 
happened in a Virginia mountain town
six years later, and some I think
I cribbed from a novel, the one
I never finished, in which Marcy
left finally for Nashville to seek 
her fame and wound up tending bar,
fox in the henhouse at last.  Marcy
who surprised everyone by drying out
at thirty, settling down, then dying
in a dead sober car crash before her son
was five, of that I'm quite sure.

© by David Graham


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