“Letter to Hugo from Union Street” by Michael Jemal

Michael Jemal


Dick: thanks for your letters and bold thoughts on expectation.
I agree with you, every day we struggle
with the words eternity, happiness,
stone, and the word neighbor.
I’ve decided it might be best if we change
the words we resist and become something
other than who we think we are.
Right now I’m drunk at the Union Street train station
leaning against a wall where graffiti breaks
into slang. I’m watching hundreds
walk past the good life advertisements,
past a thick skinned woman who sits cross legged
on the blackened cement selling watches
tossed in small piles on an oriental rug,
the only problem with the watches is they’re all busted.
How can you live in this town without a sarcastic eye.
I just want to keep drinking and maybe grow
joyful within the irony that surrounds this place.
Yesterday I thought of my first woman
or should I say first girl who bent me into a position
I’ve never been able to change.
We were 14 years old playing with cigarettes,
rubbers, and two quarts of beer.
Strange how firsts are remembered—
first woman, first car, first love, first time
I cursed the old man for shoving me with his fist.
That was the day I moved on and never turned back
and was forgotten like a pedestrian thought.
Now I am hungry with anxiety
as if I were you when you lost all bearing
and drifted in the uncertainties that became you.
Only it’s me at this subway station
your letters folded in my back pocket
my blood hot with whiskey
and a crazy weight of poems in my head.
All I want is to enjoy this day of drunkenness
this sudden verve
and quit telling old stories
as if I were a man who is owed small favors.
Now doesn’t that sound smart from a guy
who never graduated anything.
But it’s too late for regrets or despair
or should-have-could-haves
I’m just going to lean here against this tiled wall
continue sucking in the stench of piss and dirty skin
and offer up to anyone who will have them
the ghosts of my past, the simple wanderers
and snakes and vagrant tarantulas
who have come into my life at one time or another.
Dick, as impossible as it seems
our lives have been shades of gray
that bleed into one shade of gray:
a discretion we eventually must tell
over and over till we get it right
and look good in the telling.

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008

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