(Artwork by Sarah Tell at Distress Press)

Perhaps there was a tidy spare room on the banks of the Russian River
that you fell into (the room,
not the water),
and before there was such a thing as statistics of the dead and the hospitalized
there was time for scaring up some specifics. All these soldered-together clues of what
we used to chat off-and-on about,
or (take it,
leave it, too) it was in the keeping instead of only the
having that
laid you lower than you
should’ve known. Then there were the rust-laced bells and
the mornings of bright sunlight swept through latched French windows
to bitch about and contend with. There are other armies,
sure,
in the baited switch of decaf for longing, but who trifles with the mechanics of it
gets another paycheck or merely a roof overhead in exchange
for their life’s steady allotment of time spent.
Someone whispers the names of factory towns gone defunct
in the culled mess of shriveling surroundings,
and the lap of post-pluvial gutters puts air in your chest
still. Empty towers and citizen-less streets,
some homage to silence poured with garbage-truck echoes into spontaneity’s now-somber purlieu.
Hair at attention,
out of stock all over, we contend and endure and wait and wait and wait — something
maybe important
forever lost
like silent fifths between chords
never quite in search of a resolution,
yet always insecure and crenelated with worry, propped on possibility’s flimsy (if not cutthroat) edge,
like mining’s crude blots on an otherwise softly illicit landscape of sickle-carved glass and bone implements.
Everybody is out of flour and patience.
We ration food and toilet paper. We don’t take enough naps. We drink irresponsibly.
We are running low on supplies.
We float narrow and buckle,
hearts not breaking really
but more like holding out, as they say, in a puddle
of back-paddled trepidation,
chasing delight risked with a murmur of contempt’s smoky kindling,
always a little in danger too, reserved in this escape to a holding pattern of blank deliriousness.
Listen. That’s the neighbors singing along to their stereo, soft and sweet through the plaster and drywall. Hear it? Their noise has become ours as well.
Our craved joy settled,
because laughter comes and goes with the territory these demanding weeks of sheltering in common places,
vaguely grasping after what infection disperses
uncommonly as you would a blank envelope of razor blades
in stubborn moments of distance’s foggy glide
over cash-strapped months of unpaid bills and borrowed glances.
It is we (casual introverts sped along the bunched tracks of strangers)
who are supposed to be glad for the opportunity
to be discontent in our suffering’s irascible enlightenment
that we never would’ve guessed
was ours alone all along.
Each sneeze unique.
Every cough a keepsake.
All those degrees of fever: triumph’s vicious sanctity.
Because breathing
after all
is its own reward.

Of course I’ve been looking for work.

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