A Friend in Mid-Life
Your night dreams
of stagnant water,
daydreams of flight, you
declare angels a vicious joke
bequeathed by our ancestors,
love a distasteful myth
perpetrated by villains.
You no longer ache
for what you can’t name,
no longer believe
in the benevolent arc
of chance. Possibility
a young woman
with a twinkle in her eye--
Your days are numbered,
and as in a fixed carnival trick
you know the balance,
death all but crossed the i’s
and dotted the t’s. When
you stand still, you tell me,
you hear leaves rustling
in your heartbeat and so slouch
like a corpse to get used to the posture.
How can I answer? Shadows
hovering near the door—an old man
drunkenly singing a tune unheard
for decades (a wayward bloke
on a wayward trek stumbles
when you call his childhood name…),
two women with eyes downcast,
whispering, his muses either plotting
or merely distraught—are surely
a sign just for you. This road
gets darker. Brace yourself.
Remember how to sing.
The Constellation of Remorse
Dread is a woman in high heels,
her offset nipples staring accusations
that joy would die in my house,
her smile a lie I would kill to believe.
I want to ask her to dance
but the bartender is her brother
and certain I stink of poverty,
the worst crime in America.
My table wobbles like an old man
on ice. The chair leans as a funhouse
trick. The jukebox plays only Hank
Williams and the air smells of sex and ruin.
A sly man would leave before he can no longer
hear the music over the basso din of his blood,
before the dancer turns away, her tits
a glimmer of heaven in the mind, before
the bouncer asks to see my money.
A cunning man would find the back door
and step out under the stars
in an ally so piss-soaked the cats
avoid it. A shrewd man would look up
to chart his course home and never speak
of love or salvation again in this life.
He called one midnight from a payphone,
artifact of an earlier civilization, to ask
forgiveness. The ringing was incessant,
cloying, the non-music of his dreams.
The receiver reminded him of her. Hard
and heavy of thought, merciless buzzing
in a minor register. So he left it dangling.
Teal plastic swinging in artificial light,
bouncing off the spit-stained glass suffused
with wire. He imagined the ringing received
in a far galaxy light years hence, a message
the brightest of alien minds can’t decipher,
the monotone certainly meaningful they will say,
as he sat down at a linoleum counter for coffee
in the ruin of a truck stop off the interstate.
He wished his waitress beautiful. Wished
his children peaceful sleep, lives filled
with riches and love. Wished for a ride
home, a star chart to show the way.
Michael McIrvin is the author of five poetry collections, including Optimism Blues: Poems Selected and New, the essay collection Whither American Poetry, and two novels. His most recent book is the novel The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time. Michael lives with his wife Sharon on the high plains of Wyoming.