She waits for him in their car,
out in the parking lot,
hoping that a train won’t pass—cutting through
the crisp night air, its blast
would only wake the baby.
She can’t take that tonight.
It would lead to a fight or
maybe the whole ride home,
not a word would be said;
he’d be on his phone instead—
perhaps that would be
for the best. She must confess,
that sounds pretty good right now.
How much longer?
She just wants to go home now.
It’s been a long day and she
knows how it will end—getting
ready for the next one to begin.
It seems like that’s all there is.
The same as his, only hers pays less and
has more stress.
What’s taking so long?
They closed the drive through
window forty minutes ago and she
knows he can go when he’s . . . Oh,
finally, she hears him laughing,
but he’s walking out with that girl—
the one with the streaks in her hair. They’re
stopping to talk as if she’s not even there.
He takes out his cigarettes
and they laughs some more.
She feels so easily ignored,
wanting to hear the blast of the train’s horn—
cutting through the crisp night air;
to make the baby cry, and remind them
that she’s right there. But he knows.
He saw her when he came out.
Maybe she’s what they’re laughing about . . .
He’s leaning against the building,
taking another draw. My God, she
just wants to end it all.
By the Wayside
Increasingly out of the way, with its pigments bleeding in the rain,
this road is painted with watercolors. Like so many others around here,
disappearing through the years, it harbors a desperate soul
whose only aspiration is to be noticed once in a while; the old motor-court at
mile marker nine—a former landmark, in striking decline. And like the last dreams
from her honeymoon cottage, she’s mostly forgotten. Rotten and overgrown,
she was left here alone to face the passing of time and the certain decline
that comes from being ignored for so many years—being slowly ground by the gears
of progress. Her white-painted cinderblocks are now stained with rusty moss.
The cedar shingles, dingy grey, are all loose and falling off the way business did
the day they finished the Bypass. And bypass they did.
A car ran off the road last night. Its engine coolant steamed in the headlights glow
and a cloud rose above the parted broom-grass. Two hours would pass
before it was pulled from the ditch. The wet, red clay is always a bitch
on nights like those. And yes, for the first time in years her hope rose—
maybe someone would cast their lights her way and see her back there,
where progress had left her in grave despair; isolated and relegated
to the memories of the dying. But the tow-truck driver carried on about his task,
trying to get a good hook on the car that “shoulda took the Bypass” on a night like that.
Hurrying his pace as the winds picked up,
he never saw her.
Lonnie stops on his way home
from work, as he always does
at the Outskirts Inn. He says
it’s because the train blocks
the track, but the truth is found at
the bottom of a glass; Rum and Coke—
maybe a shot of rye. The
tar stained walls have tinged his eyes.
Dot worries about him but
she still keeps him lit. Every night,
the same as before, she can
tell it’s him by the sound of the door.
He holds it open too long and
lets the cold air in. She has to
straighten the door mat,
turn on Kojak, and
remind him to take
his heart pills again.
Trying to Press On
A quick run to the market down the hill and at the edge of town
to pick up things for this week’s lunches, before they closed at nine—
I was running out of time. On such occasions you never expect
to return home with much, except for what you buy, but that night I
met a guy stocking the shelves as I tried to find a certain kind
of yogurt that I’d bought before at another store.
He looked to be about my age but sometimes it’s hard to gauge.
I could tell we’d lived quite different lives; his Fu Manchu and baggy eyes
and swollen knuckles on his hands—honestly I’d say he didn’t stand
a hair more than 5’4”. He was built and smelled like a
bean bag ashtray, and I mean that in the nicest way.
He told me how things were so much better you know
at the old stores, before they all closed. “We had a Union
and everyone felt like family” instead of just one guy working by himself
stocking shelves. He said they treated him right before the flight
went down. That was around the time when things declined and it was
hard to find work like that around here. And he said it was weird—
at the time he never thought he’d ever look back and think how good it was
because, when you’re young you’ve got no time to think a lot
about much more than drinking beer and trying to score.
He had nothing to show for all the years except for a kid he
isn’t sure is his but he loves him, and keeps him on weekends,
and all of his friends say he is—his kid I mean—his son . . . the
one reason he does what he does; the long hours—the mind numbing hours,
because . . . just because.
As I drove home, it occurred to me, that face to face I hadn’t seen
that the tired eyes and broken shell were tell-tale signs I
should know well. For so long his plight was mine; a
loving father in a bind, doing his best until he can find a
better job—a better life. And looking back now I know that just a few short years ago I
must have looked to others as if I were his brother,
much the same in hollow pain,
trying to press on.
Why is it that our eyes
know so little about the world,
but share so much with our minds?
Like the cashier that smiles the extra smile—
she knows I’m married, but still carries on
with that far away look in her eyes.
I try to look down at the keypad;
the worn, plastic card swipe— it’s looking pretty bad. Some of the
keys are loose and completely bare
from repeated use. And dirty residue
has collected in the edges and corners.
Someone has placed some Scotch tape
across the top of the display. I’m
not really sure what that was for.
I need to wash my hands when I get home . . .
“Do you remember the price of this?”
she asks . . .
She doesn’t have to ask.
She knows that I know—
she could just say,
“What is the price of this?”
and if I didn’t know,
we could just make something up.
Who Would Have Thought?
This town should really be
known for something more; maybe
the hometown of someone famous, like
the founder of a chain of discount stores, or
maybe a boxer, or a spree killer that
lived quietly with his mother, or
really any other man of renown, that would
label this town, so that when I go somewhere
and tell them where I’m from,
people will say, “oh yeah, that’s where what’s his name
first did what he done,”
right or wrong, and then some
douche-bag will write a song,
and it becomes a hit, and it explains it all—
his roots, his rise and fall, and how we
never expected anything like that at all.
Not from him anyway—
that’s what they all would say.
Over five hundred locations to serve you,
the title fight on pay-per-view, or
the interstate rest-area standoff—
who would have thought?
I certainly wouldn’t have.
about the author:
Daniel Burttram has been writing poetry for over twenty years. He subscribes to a peripatetic approach to poetry; drawing inspiration from walking around his hometown. In past lives he has worked as a ranch-hand, game warden and truck driver. He currently teaches at the University of Montevallo.