Volume 41 ~ 2018
The cab of the old pickup truck was silent as the tires bounced over the cracked pavement. The passenger was a brown-haired girl hanging her hand out the window, feeling the sting of the cool night air on her fingers. The driver, his hands fastened on the wheel, stared into the endless night.
“Do you want to go somewhere?” she asked.
His voice was devoid of emotion. “No.”
She gazed out the window and could barely see the grassy ditch next to them. Fireflies danced among the weeds. She opened her hand, silently asking them to land in her palm. None of them answered her call. With every lurch of the vehicle, she could hear the shrill clink of glass bottles in the backseat.
She tried again. “Do you want to talk?”
Among the almost-empty pack of booze was an unused football helmet. They’d been driving for two hours to escape the stadium lights that seemed to flood the whole town. It was the first game of the year, and it would have been the beginning of his last time on the field. Would have. His number 18 jersey covered the clinking contraband. The pavement dissolved into gravel, and her worry cut through the thick scent of alcohol.
“I thought you were going to stop.” She motioned towards the bottles in the back.
He scoffed. “And why should I?”
They were both sixteen when this became their routine, driving on country roads. They used to hold hands and laugh, their youthful joy electrifying the air around them. Now, at eighteen, he barely looked at her. Ever since the beginning, she knew that she was second to his true passion. Girlfriends wouldn’t put him through college; football would. She never understood how his whole life could revolve around something as fleeting as Friday nights and a brown ball. It was humid and sticky the Saturday night it all went away, his future disappearing. She had driven past when it happened, saw this very truck pulled over on the side of the road in front of flashing lights. A police officer watched as he struggled to walk in a straight line, fireflies floating over him. She’d heard that his truck was full of aluminum cans; he only drinks from bottles now.
Gravel pummeled the outside of the truck. Dust floated behind them like a cape. “Can we go home?”
His answer was the grumble of the truck accelerating, his blank eyes never moving from the road in front of him.
She didn’t deserve this. It wasn’t her fault that he’d gotten caught. He had no one left to take his anger out on, so he took it out on her in the form of silence. She didn’t know when she was supposed to accept that there was nothing she could do to make him feel better. It was her idea to go on a drive, to get him away from the pain of the game. She was just trying to help. She always was.
The truck scaled a hill, and they were met with headlights heading right towards them. She grabbed the wheel and yanked it to the right, and the truck careened to side of the road and dipped down into the ditch. Eyes squeezed shut, she heard plants crunch under the tires as the truck came to a stop.
When she opened her eyes, their fingers were intertwined. There was no love in their grasp, but utter fear; not knowing what was coming next. They held on to each other for a moment before letting go. She didn’t speak, didn’t ask if he was alright. He didn’t say anything either.
He drove back on to the road, and she knew she should tell him to stop. When she saw the tears on his face and watched him wipe them away, she stayed silent.
As they returned the way they came, broken streaks of light were scattered across the windshield. Fireflies.
Ode to 17
You’re seventeen in Nebraska.
It’s summertime, the earth is scorched.
Cement burns the soles of your feet
so you don’t run barefoot anymore.
Working from 9-5 each day,
you can pay for your wasted gas.
Spinning tires on gravel roads,
blaring your favorite songs.
In starry darkness, you sit
in the bed of a truck
with the same friends
you’ve had since kindergarten.
You release your secrets into the night air
and regret it
as soon as the words
have left your lips.
Your mom still does your laundry
and your dad still changes your tires
but you groan when they ask you to run
to the grocery store for more bread.
You’re not really afraid of anything;
and leaving the only place you’ve ever called home
Unopened envelopes pile up on your desk.
They try to force their future on you.
You cry alone because you don’t know what’s coming next,
and you cry with others because they don’t either.
Most of the time,
You just wish this would never end.
I boarded a bus
in a place called Amber Cove.
At least that’s what they called it
at the cruise ship dock.
It's a place where the sunshine is so golden and sweet,
it seems as though it could drip from the sky.
Everyone smiles, even when they tell you
that your souvenir t-shirt costs $30.
Outside the dock area,
they called it the Dominican Republic.
There was a man on the bus,
our guide through this mystical land.
We drove by a field covered in garbage.
“This is the local dump.”
Families dug through the litter, surrounded by lonely dogs
whose ribs protruded through their matted fur.
On one side of the street, women carried baskets on their heads
and babies in their arms, while
on the left, white sand and a statue standing in the water.
“That is Poseidon,” he says. “He protects us from storms.”
We saw brightly painted houses built close together.
“This is a Haitian village.”
Their pastel-colored poverty
looked prettier from the balcony of a cruise ship.
I saw a boy no older than four years old
playing with a plastic water bottle on wheels.
He had happiness in his eyes.
“The children here are very creative.”
There were cows grazing in front yards.
“The cattle roam as they please.”
Men watched us with arms folded and stoic eyes,
ignoring their bovine intruders.
We passed a building bigger than the rest,
a domed roof painted red and white.
“This is the only fire station on the island,”
he said with sad eyes.
Then he told us
“If one of the houses catch on fire,
the people might as well just stand outside
and watch it burn.”
Someday you’ll meet
a blue-eyed boy
who will cloud your vision.
You won’t notice how dark it is
till it’s too late.
Someday he’ll tell you
that you are different.
You’ll wipe the raindrops off your forehead
and ignore the water
in your eyes.
Someday you’ll hear
wind beat against your window
while his phone rings at 3 a.m.
When he leaves the room,
you’ll ignore the water that drips on your head.
Someday you’ll watch
him slip in the door at a late hour
and hear the first crack of lightning.
He’ll make excuses, and the wind
will hold the door shut when you try to leave.
Someday you’ll feel
the thunder beat the earth.
It will shake your body
When he says he doesn’t love you anymore,
you won’t be able to see the sun.
Someday you’ll cry.
You’ll be angry at the world.
You’ll wish you’d had a siren,
when the whole time,
it blared in your ears.
Someday you’ll wake up
and realize you didn’t have to cry
to fall asleep.
You’ll gaze outside
and see how green the grass is.
Someday you’ll hear his name
and the memory will be sharp
like the storm was.
It won’t hurt like it used to.
The rain will end.