“Prodigal Son Returns to Warren, Michigan” by Jim Daniels

Jim Daniels


The air stings but you get used to it. Were always used to it. Buried it in your lungs at birth in anticipation of today. Dark comfort. Burning oil. Leaking transmission fluid. Exploding antifreeze. A lot can go wrong and already has. That’s the darkness. The comfort’s buried behind the garage. Cigarette smoke—trying to quit. Lifetime hobby. Like collecting LSD stamps. Marking stale beer kisses on your warped globe. Thumbnail bruise slowly making its way to the top. To be released. Good luck with that bruise on your heart. Life in Warren. Backfire misfire. Deliberate fire. Shotgun arson. That hiss leaking out that globe or a spray can sending another inscrutable message. Night breaks glass. Day keeps peace. Peace on loan from the bank. Interest on a ticking clock. The bank, a robot hooker. Hydrant full of trick questions and fake water. Air stings. You sting it back. The invitation lost in the mail with the lost children. Welcome home, soldier. Have we got a minimum wage job for you! No burned bridges. Our bridge takes you to Canada, that girl you always liked that was too nice for you. Ribbons and curls and a mean big brother. Forgot to wipe your shoes on the way out of town—you follow the smudged footprints back. What were you thinking, leaving? Like the senile dog, barking at the wrong door to get back in. It happens. Night is different here, spiked with acrid fear. Fists just lumps in your pockets. Nobody’s built a hill yet—uphill and downhill, relative terms. Related by marriage. Separated by birth. Blinded by the lack of light. The absence of an acoustic guitar. The dance of electric shock. One word for gray—hundreds of shades of it. Comfort, one word for it. Rungs on the ladder: imaginary. Leak in the roof: real. Basement nightmare-flooded. Cocaine cut on a ping pong table. Behind the eight ball. Beneath the cue stick hammering down. It’s all coming back. Blood on an empty dress burned down the neighborhood, but it’s still here. Just needs a jump. Got cables? Gentlemen, start your engines. The air stings with old spit and large betrayal. Rust-mobiles rattling and mumbling their damned prayers. Transportation specials. Dark comfort dome light glow. Somebody getting in, getting out. Idling. Flashers on. Adjusting mirrors. Emergency. Waiting for someone. Maybe you.

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets


Jim Daniels: “I have spent my entire life in the Rust Belt, born in Detroit, and living in Pittsburgh for the last 35 years, with a three-year stint near Toledo in between. My writing has always been focused on place—both the literal places of blue collar towns and the ‘place’ of social class. My style has always been straightforward and direct because of the influence of these places.” (website)

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