Passing Albuquerque

The car I’ve driven since high school,
The one I learned to drive stick on,
Shifts smoothly into fourth, then fifth.
I easily pass white-fingered family men, driving
New automatics with screaming children,
Dogs,
And partners, oh partners,
Insisting that they slow down,
Speed up,
Stop.

It’s day three; I’m leaving Albuquerque.
Goodbye, New Mexico. Sorry to say,
But I won’t be back soon.
Your empty desert highways,
The same ones I drove in Utah,
Make for easy podcast listening,
But also for dull drives.

The smell of greasy food from a gas station fills the cab,
Mad men and women poke at each others’ politics,
And the sun peeks over the sandstone crag.
Ten more hours of driving remain today, but just a small stretch waits
For me
Tomorrow.

The podcast ends,
The traffic falls away,
And I’m left only with a car
Skating along in fifth.

Warmth

Unclouded haze hangs heavy
Over those who have never seen hungry bears
Picking neon summer kokanee
From the glass of glacier streams.

No blankets wait in deep closets to be retrieved
By kindly hands of grandmothers,
Or quiet morning lovers,
Or my lonely father,
For shivering sleepers.

No small hands under small blankets sit,
Nor white breaths against dark afternoon skies.

Here is a different warmth:
The kind that comes from liminal promises
To coniferous homelands.

Wake

Autumn leaves,
Covered in dew,
Litter the ground by a golden pond.
There, where three grey swans sing their farewells to the sun,
A man and a woman stand.

The two interlock their white-boned fingers,
Stung by the oncoming chill of night,
And wonder how many more moments they might have shared
If things had been different,
The way they had hoped.

They stand there, facing each other,
And then the receding sun.
The wind disturbs her split-ends
And his old, frayed scarf—
The one his father gave him.

He wonders if the scarf saw
A similar scene
When his mother left his father.
He supposes it doesn’t make much of a difference;
He’s standing there, regardless, on that carpet of burnt orange.

As their fingers come apart,
She wonders if she could have been kinder,
As she knows he should have been.
He pockets his hands and walks away from that western sun,
Leaving only the mist of breath in his wake.

She, though, stays.
She watches the night glide in
Like some great bird,
Its gale waking the water,
Now shining silver.

A Short Walk Home

Arid winter air
Alights my tongue
Like sparrows on the oak branch outside my childhood window.
They sing songs of quickly snuffed sunlight
And quiet mornings with cheap coffee from a can.

I descend the stairwell with a smashed cigarette hanging from my lips
And take a step onto the earthshattered sidewalk.
The sounds of distant cars accompany me
As battered leaves and broken beer bottles
Fragment further below my feet.

I breathe in the birdsong
And exhale smoke through my nose
As I pass the place I bought a woman our first drink,
Then our last.
The shadowed rafters hang over upturned chairs; there’s nothing left here.

Fingers, trembling from cold
Or from hurt
Toss the tarred filter into the overfull dumpster outside my door,
Graffitied with names I recognize
And some I don’t.

The last two hours of sleep with her
Leave me wanting for just a few more.
Footfalls drag me back to bed,
Unclothed again,
Bed-sore.

Mapless

A fire-beaten trail is followed
Under the Northeastern Oregon sun,
Outlining the peaks and river valleys
Like your right hand on my chest.

Down your index finger,
Through the charred pines,
We switchback onto your thumb.
Up and over shaded boulders,

We reach a lake reflecting the surrounding mountains.
It’s long and clear,
With waves windpeaked and sheer,
That reflect our evening firelight.

The greengrey trees hum
With excited insects
While patient boulders sit squat
On dewy earth.

Your amber mirrors look at me,
And your tongue falls so precisely.
I stumble to you across uneven ground,
Drunk on your sober gaze.

We dance and sing with nightbirds and crickets,
Then fall asleep to windsung lullaby.
I wake and try to find your hand
My map, but only find I’m lost.

Your absence
Feels loud in moonlight.
With no hand to guide me home,
I stay up there, among the waves, and breathe in the pine air

Alone.

Indefinite

Indefinite:
Undefined.
Lasting for an undetermined amount of time — possibly forever.

These two definitions are in conflict for me. The possibility of an endless period of time is necessarily accompanied by definition; definition is the crux of equilibrium, and an unequilibrious circumstance will eventually be resolved.

Living without definition is to suspend a question in the air; like some circus performer, it must come down.

So, a question: In what manner shall it be resolved? Although it has not been explicitly given, we know the question, so what must come next is a weighing of pros and cons. If defined, would the indefinite be improved upon, or would the new definition carry weight that would, at some point, sink the ship anyway? Time ticks, so remaining in suspended is not much of an option: it may be better to cut the cords and bring things to a end in a clean moment. Like a bandaid. Or a circus performer hitting the ground. Splat. Surely they would prefer it to starvation.

But here’s the issue: We do not know the definition until it is given, and once given, we cannot shift course. If we start on the path of aerial starvation, we must allow it to play out. We’ve thrown away our scissors, so to speak. So, to define is to risk a terrifying and agonizing end for the sake of clarity.

So: Enjoy the undefined for a limited time, or risk definition– bringing about the possibility of a painful metaphorical death for the chance at finding prolonged peace?

Fugue

The door to our two-bedroom apartment was open when I got home that day. When the turn of the key wasn’t met with the resistance of the deadbolt, I was surprised at you — you had just yelled at me the night before about keeping the door locked whether we were home or not. You were afraid, you said, of someone coming in and taking what wasn’t theirs. I brushed you off, knowing that we lived in a safe neighborhood in a locked apartment building. The only people who could come in without our permission were our neighbors; both of whom you know could never have done anything like that. Jared, the single guy in 303, was too busy, too tired, and too sad. The kids in 301 were always stoned or asleep. But you told me to get up and turn the deadbolt back anyway, and I did.

I was getting ready to call you out on it — to laugh at you, to kiss and tease you, when I heard you. From behind the cracked bedroom door, you were making the same noises you did for me. You were crying out, gasping, sighing, breathing heavily.

Do you remember your first time? The way you held me? The fogging of glass? We were on that hill, just south of Union, next to the road that led up to the old water tower. We had just gone up there to see the stars; it was a clear and cold night. Every few rungs I climbed, I looked back at you to make sure you were still there. You were. You were always there when I looked for you. You laughed at the holes in my jeans; from below you could see my underwear. I pretended to be mad, but I wasn’t really. You knew that, though.

We watched the highschoolers play football for some time, sitting quiet. Only once the floodlights went dark did we lay back and look upwards; the darkness of the sky was complete, save for the speckling of stars. I found Orion, you found Ursa Major. It was too cold to lay on the metal of the tower, though, so we made the trek back down and enjoyed the heat of the car and of each other.

Isn’t that when you said you fell for me? It’s certainly when I fell for you.

To think that I would later crack open a door to see your legs around a near stranger… would I have done anything differently? I’m not sure I would have been able to; I do love you.

The door creaked open, and you fell quiet. You were there, as I knew you only the night before, but with a different body held close. A more beautiful body than my own — a woman I knew only in passing. Shandra? Cheryl? Her curves, concave rather than convex, stood in sharp contrast to my own round form. I can’t blame you for choosing as you did; she’s a looker. I’m only sorry that I lived with a liar for as long as I did, and that you had to subject yourself to a person you had no eye for.

I was confused, then. Furious, crushed, lost. A fugue state met its beginning, for both of us, and our relationship met its end. You pushed Cheryl/Shandra/whoever off of you, and chased my then-turned back. You tripped on the thrown comforter, slamming into me. I stumbled, breaking your mother’s vase, cutting my hand in the process. Sticky, ferrous blood dripped from my fingers as I got back up and continued to the door. I walked past the couch we bought together and between the canvases we painted. Blood and tears mixed on the carpet we had taken turns vacuuming. You threw yourself around my shoulders, but I shrugged you off. You thudded to the ground. You were gasping then, too. Was it out of pleasure? Relief? Grief? You looked beautiful, I’m sure. As much as I hated seeing you that way, you were always a pretty crier.

I’m sure the strawberry blonde stranger came to your side, and I’m sure you were glad to have the company.

The door closed behind me, and I turned the key in the lock. I felt the deadbolt slide into place, then. Can’t be too careful: Someone might come and take what’s yours.