We got back from Knoxville and stopped at a restaurant to eat, Mom put our name in and I went to the bathroom. It was stuffy in the lobby, she passed me a menu but I studied the cars passing outside. It would be 10 or 20 minutes to get seated. “So is it 10 or 20?” The hostess pressed her lips together, declining a reply.
Driving out of town we pass what used to be a Garden Ridge and a boarded up Miami Subs, the one where we had my little brothers 2nd birthday, and he cried because he didn’t want to leave the ball pit after all the guests had gone. The white paint was peeling off the front of the building, the magenta and teal trim was faded from the sun.
Sometime during the night, an ambulance flies down
my street, jolting me awake. I turn the lamp on
and see that it woke Pup too. We both lay
back down, hearts racing, as the siren
fades into the distance.
Then I think of the farm.
I look around at my home where there’s no room
for muddy jeans and boots by the door
my new leather gloves and James’ handkerchief
sit on the dresser. I left my hat in Sadie’s kitchen –
I couldn’t wear it here anyway. There is no
room to practice roping on my brick patio.
At night, the crickets and frogs and stars
are drowned by traffic and laughter
and pale orange street lights.
My aunt sent me the papers
for the land across the river from her.
The old dairy is up for auction
137 acres in all – the meadow, the stream,
The side of the mountain where I
Learned to ride will go to a developer
Or a hunter
Or someone else who will call it their home
who can write the check by May 1st.
I can’t picture anyone else living there
or loving it, dreaming of it as often as I do.
The thought of someone else signing their
name on the papers keeps me awake.
A stranger who doesn’t know the
the curves of the creek
or what the ridge-line looks like
in the very pale light
just before dawn.
I want to sign my name on that land,
to map out the fence line
and drive t-posts into the orange clay,
stringing barbed wire
across with gloved hands. I could
cut hay on it in the summer, raising
colts and calves there in the spring.
I could learn the land, and have it learn me
and at the end of the day,
look out over that beautiful ridge-line
and see something I am proud of.
When I bike home, I don’t listen to music. I listen to the hiss and rush of traffic,
of birds passing overhead, to the zzzz’s that escape from the chain as I coast.
I take a quick left and flash by a dumpster reeking of last nights leftovers
The alleys are marked by wandering trails of thick liquid-
sour mop water, spilled drinks, melted ice and the spit of
a dozen servers who wish smoke breaks lasted all weekend.
There are clear and black straws clogging the flow,
bright yellow lemons and neon limes keep leaves
and wrappers from reaching the bottom of the drain.
In daylight, the alleys are silent
the spills dry and the spent cigarette butts almost look like confetti
but I can’t imagine anyone celebrating such an infamous end.
By night, the kitchen doors are propped open and the sounds of dinner
spill into the streets.
Stainless steel freezers guard the inside entry way
and the crash and rattle of plates is eclipsed by laughter and the shouts of servers.
Smells waft between the buildings, overcoming for a moment the
scent of yesterdays special.
Overturned buckets and broken chairs litter the space between
stacks of cardboard and broken glassware,
poised to offer a brief respite from a double shift.
I turn off the ally onto a street where the
trees reach across the road, their branches intertwining
above the pavement, blocking the stars from the sky,
the galaxies that look like spilled confetti on a dark street.
The sounds of so many servers carrying clean and
filthy silverware die out, to be replaced by the
rushing wind. I speed home to rest my weary feet,
thankful that more than broken chairs and
overturned buckets await them.