Okay, at the flea market maybe
I overpaid for the time machine.
It was, after all, disposable,
one use only. So to allay my
fears of being swindled, I went back
in time to do some aggressive haggling–
too aggressive, it seems, for while I
was quibbling with the owner over
cost, someone came along and snatched the
time machine out from under me.
They are released like pigeons
into the matronly grip
of the grammar school schoolyard.
One kid torments grasshoppers,
wings unhinging crisply
as saltines snapped in two.
On the blacktop, the fairer sex
make themselves faint as boys
await the certain head wounds.
Bored, the boys elect the slowest,
most slovenly among them
for a beating at the far edge of the yard,
kicking until the teacher draws near,
sending them into flight. Circling everyone,
a chain-link fence so the children
may look out, if they please, on the car
drawing past at ten AM, the marathon
runner, the road crew repaving, yet
their gazes cannot pierce the plain
facades of nearby houses–the bathroom
where a woman guides powder
over her bruised face, the basement
where a man ponders whether to reinforce
his barricade or buy another rifle.
The housewife in the passing car
looks in at the penned kids, who
fail to return her gaze, and asks
the holding cell in which she sits,
when was I found guilty
and sentenced to this fate?
Elderly pieces of mail arrive each day with amber
change-of-address labels accreted, one atop the other.
Red return-to-sender point accusatory fingers;
stamps have been added, postmarks re-marked.
The envelopes have suffered cruelties along
their circuitous routes–opened, re-sealed, taped,
Magic Markered, scalloped at the edges.
I find notices well-overdue; bills gone unpaid;
letters seeking rent on apartments shunted at night
like snake skins; the threat of power shut off
in some long-ago place; missives from friends
who donned disguises, becoming strangers;
and, from a school I left years ago on my own terms,
a formal note of expulsion that makes me nearly
I pass through stages, as though
grieving: first anger, which keeps me waiting each day
by the box for the carrier who, sensing my rage, appears
randomly, slyly. Then panic–shouldn’t I set things
right? (But to do so would cripple me.) Then calm.
Clearly I’ve faced some trouble–stacked debts,
terminated employments, forced departures–yet apparently
I emerged unscathed without ever sensing the danger.
Maybe the key is movement: toward apartments whose
landlords don’t ask questions, toward jobs whose bosses
don’t follow up. The mail continues to gather as I
await the power outage, boxes half-packed, billfold
flush with fresh credit, the flashlight’s batteries charged,
the Rand McNally tucked under the driver’s seat.
The day of my mother’s birth
becomes an arbor
through which she steps, one arbor
begetting seventy, each
more tangled than the
last, until she finds herself
subdued by unfettered growth,
a muted call of distress.
OUTSIDE A BAR CALLED THUMBS, THE END IS NIGH
I made my usual nose dive into the same tired dive
where the same sad adversaries attempted
their typical trick shots: the torpedo, the hurdle,
the impossible triangle. To my eyes
everything, even the cue sticks, seemed vicarious.
I took my cue and settled into a booth, focusing–
as with sex or smalltalk–on making a use
for my hands. Tidepools of spilled beer
spawned vibrant life; I found myself enthralled.
Then I was out back, painting the snow
a life-affirming shade of gold. In those days,
feeling out of plumb, I wanted someone
to level me, but my bar-mates merely
tilted the table to compensate. Only
the dumpster, standing uncomplaining
up to its haunches in blue chemical slush,
sought to console me. I awaited the gleaming
host, the emcee, to deliver my vast winnings,
but nothing spoke. The air began to thrum
with the victory of its stillness, an alley light
went dark, and I thought it possible the world
had ended, whimpering, and I was the last to know.
Dan Pinkerton lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Subtropics, Willow Springs, New Orleans Review, Arts & Letters,Washington Square, and the 2008 Best New American Voices anthology.
“I am currently and sadly porchless, but I grew up in a nineteenth century farmhouse with both a front and rear porch, an embarrassment of riches. Most of our relaxing and/or socializing took place out back, away from the purview of passing cars. But whenever the storm sirens howled in the summer, I remember trailing my father out front to lean on the porch rail and have a look at the northern skies, which were oftentimes black but once in awhile, more interestingly, a dense salmony color, meaning a tornado was thinking of swooping down and flattening us. I guess some families bonded over ballgames. Ours bonded over meteorological threats.”