The Drought

Daytona Beach, St. Paul, 2007-2009

We bombed down to Daytona.
We had packed seven to the car;
I was Hermes among the satyrs.
I first met Liz at a tourist bar,
the kind with taxidermied alligators.

She had abandoned her sorority.
(Two score Tri-Delts hounding jello shots
all lemon-mouthed and their hair pulled taut,
rapt in ecstatic fungibility.)

We brownbagged down the thoroughfare
the perambulate exemplar, all halation and coronas
and give-away shades to fight the glare.
After a short ride in the elevator,
she got me stoned on her motel balcony
perched high above the parking lot.

Elizabeth, cursed by fate,
she was born in Minneapolis,
a descendant of the Huguenots.
She was singular and single, unabashed and unattached;
I was the loyal opposition, the stick part of the match.
She was the lotus eating pragmatist
and I was her doting reprobate.

And when the week was over, it was almost nightly calls.
After graduation, we moved together to St. Paul.

But we were never meant to be anything other than long distance
and all those well meaning sentiments
were replaced by the telephone anaphora,
tempered by more than disappointment.

I was going to get us back on course,
I declared one night, out drinking.
(Memoranda from the captain’s desk
drafted while the ship was sinking.)
But we could not save everything.
There was no single unifying gesture,
no roses in the rushes.
We’d fashioned wings out of wax and string
and we had ended up on crutches.

I was being difficult, she was being diffident.
She once said it was like we shared a birthday,
but our horoscopes were different.

We were never going to be Bonny and Clyde
but Elizabeth, at least she tried.
And the closest that we ever got
was “I love you, with some caveats.”

Odessa, TX, August 2011

I got a job in marketing, still living in St. Paul,
got a studio apartment in an okay neighborhood.
(morning sunlight, radiator, hardwood)
Joined a church, apostatized; a gym.
I’ve been listening to the Doors again
and a neighbor having loud sex through the wall.

There was a conference we were hosting
on social media and re-branding
(astroturfing and expanding)
value-added blog parsing and posting.

My manager, who refused to go, elected me his proxy.
Oh west Texas, shining buckle of the Nothing Belt,
where the kids throw rocks at passing cars
and huff airplane epoxy.
I pictured almost living in the hotel bar
or slumping through shit-hole happy hours
downing watered down and sweetened sours.
I could not envision a week in Odessa
beyond continental breakfast from a fiberboard credenza
(coffee pots and juice decanters,
hyacinths in plastic planters.)

Laid over in Dallas, strangers in miniskirts,
corundum eyes and halite teeth.
Sedatives and Cinnabon.
At a cowboy boutique near my concourse,
I bought a pair of boots with a wing motif.
The night’s last connection
dual prop and nearly empty.
The tarmac an ersatz Rothko.
I had the flight attendant move me;
I wanted to be too drunk to sit in the exit row.
The narcoleptic’s aimless lust.
Port side, ascending, neon ziggurats.
The roads spiraled out without a plan,
concrete fractalled out to macadam,
which then branched out into dust.
The dead lawn continuum,
the derivative, the partial sum.
Sodium light warbling in parallax.

The conference itself came and went
wholly without incident
and I spent most nights in, in a fucked-in chair
revising Power Point slides in my underwear.
In a week, I hadn’t left the hotel grounds.
(I hadn’t really cared to plus I didn’t have a car.)
So I sauntered down to the hotel bar
hoping the Akron guys would buy a couple rounds.

All dark and bricked by a shitty mason,
the decor was steakhouse modern, all fake antique and drab.
A motto, routed in a maple slab:
The Best Little Pourhouse in the Permian Basin.

A townie pulling for the Braves,
some cheesesticks someone microwaved.
The bartender spoke in pictograms,
the earnest ponytail of an exiled Angeleno.
The local Stonehenge in weathered Polaroids,
the Graboid country, the bake-sale void.
Yellowed clippings from the Reporter-Telegram.
And on the bar, crescent cualacino.  

With a fake I.D. and a blank expression,
a young geologist, perched hunched upon a barstool
from UT Permian Basin summer school
(a school named after a depression)
drank with a gusto tantamount to confession.

My complimentary drink tickets had expired,
and disappointed, I retired.

World’s Wildest Police Chases,
I Dream of Jeannie, Willie Bloomquist stealing bases,
Billy Mays’ heir apparent vending.
Twelve Monkeys, recut for cable t.v.
(advertisers hate unhappy endings.)
I rifled through the logoed lagniappes
and showered in a bathing cap.
The coffee maker hacked and coughed
and sputtered as I turned it off.
Dialing random numbers on the hotel phone
elicits valley dweller logatomes.
I made a fortress with the bedding
and decided to give the hotel bar another chance.

Shots with a bridesmaid from a boring wedding,
who ducked out during the first dance,
garbed in lilac taffeta and tulle.
The bartender put Seven-Up in my Moscow Mule
and so we sulked out towards the pool.
From the diving-board, still robed, alighting,
she was phocine in the recessed lighting.
She motioned that I ought to join her,
and was disappointed by my rejoinder.

Sirens bleating dirges, lash me to the smokestack of a train.
My ancestors shouting epithets
written in a ghost alphabet.
The dream of tumbling from an airplane.

I was still sleeping on a deck chair
when the first fire trucks arrived.
The evacuation signifiers, the smoke displacing air
the first responder pidgin, the T.V. anchor twang.
Some of the other guests huddled half alive,
stupefied, with eyes like targets,
high on monoxide and the chemicals in carpet
barefoot in bathrobes, mumbling a jackalope slang.
A hotel clerk mouthed a Pater Noster
as he crossed my name off of a roster.
(It was at that moment I realized I’d survived.)

I felt I had nothing to contribute
to the fire marshal’s report,
so I took a taxi to the airport.