TURN OF THE CENTURY PORTRAIT
After he was laid off, he stood in the heat,
listening to the arguments of afternoon.
Around him, cars nosed into their stalls.
He noticed a blister between his thumb
and forefinger, a broken whitish flap
of skin, no one to complain to but the wind.
So he spoke to no one in his gnarled accent,
the car radio abrading his brow
and sat hunched, hands on the wheel
of the ‘81 Cutlass, speedometer stuck at 60,
before turning the key, hearing,
the cylinders fire their fat familiar bursts,
that brilliant hollow-throated thrum,
rattling down his arms’ ulnar nerves.
A wrecked alphabet affixed to the driver’s side
corner of the windshield, decals peeling off
sun-seared glass, a smell like bacon left out
all day in the pan, an incipient rancidness,
a metallic tang of blood pooled
behind his tongue, eyes suddenly stung
by salt dripping off his forehead. The surge
bringing down its full weight upon him,
knowing what a piece of shit all this is,
and what the hell is he going to do about it.
—from Rattle #22, Winter 2004