Post-Echo Blackout Drift
You have a sound that follows. Assume
what happens after a couple of bars,
a couple of napkins, a comic book soundtrack
we make with the spinal-cord crash.
Take two: Years and in between started
to entertain new ways to fight against time,
where we are bogged down, oversaturated
from Internet phenomenology, quantum
sound, a lecture featuring the subconscious
of Val Kilmer.
We wanted the drift.
Everything is happening at once.
There is no time whatsoever to grasp. I’ve
thought—the stories, characters, variations, char-
acter—who I am today I will be tomorrow, who
I was yesterday—variations, selfsame, abandoned.
We had been
talking about a movie, kicking roots,
the low hum building at night
a little less fun than a jigsaw of
ourselves lodestar small among others.
The morning was cold and fat with leftover
Chinese food plastic forked on a bus stop bench
while a cat hissed at another cat for passing by.
It was the sun who staggered up the alley
between gray walls to let a brown bird slip
through the gray no one would call a sky and land
in a busted-ass tree that forgot the weight of leaves
as the first drops of rain fell to form exhaust puddles.
I watched the bird perched there on a janky branch
as I scooped the last bits of crusty brown rice
and goopy-sauced beef into my mouth until
the bird flew off in a way I could never understand
and there was nothing left to do but drop
the white flap-top box into the black metal garbage can
and begin the long drizzly walk home, past
the last few high-rises quiet for the weekend,
the parking lots and weed lots, the underpass where tin-
can fires warm homeless dreams and bold youth
leave their names on tall walls holding up busy streets
with no idea of what’s underneath, the renovated mills
and the worn out millhouses, the slick path where
fearless lovers and shitfaced vagrants sneak
to disappear in a tangle of weeds and malt liquor bottles
and silence and muddy banks and dark privacy,
to where the sidewalk finally becomes bridge.
It has been too long to remember the first time,
but somewhere along the years I picked up a habit
of stopping halfway across the bridge to pull
a candy bar I saved for the moment from my pocket,
tear open the wrapper, bite off a mouthful, enjoy
the shame of chocolate and toffee on a drunk morning,
and stare down into brown water tumbling over
shallow rapids, thick with the dirt of centuries
of snapped lines and Styrofoam and sunken canoes,
runoff from the chicken plant, the cemetery.
A length of pine trunk and the two rocks it wedged
between before I ever passed through catch everything
catchable in the ambling current, flecks of scale and shit,
twigs and pebbles and leaves, plastic grocery bags and
frayed cigarette butts, grains loosed from stones and bones,
to hold it all together, gather it all up to make it part of
themselves, to grow into something bigger until there is
an island of the wasted and the forgotten left behind
in the middle of everything, piling up all over itself
every moment, waiting for it all to take root and settle in
so the otters and great blue herons may rest there one day.
I do not stop to remember, to reminisce, to grow
nostalgic. I stop for the forgetting, to let the days slip
from me in that time between then and now, that place
lost here and there, in the cool warmth of early morning
as the sun finishes rising over the dawn-misted water
that passes under me and disappears forever downstream.
I stay only long enough to finish what I brought
with me, swallow down the last bite, take the empty
wrapper and fold it neat as a letter from a dead
lover, tuck it in my pocket before moving on.
In the violence of your jaw, I found myself
again as your hack-haired friend mumbled
“forgiveness” when “eternity” was so obvious —
eternity we have, to count the broken gestures
of a night, the loving of a dull orange light
lapping over us from a cheap plastic globe
at the wrong moment. I confessed I could not
measure the ebbing of a glance, the tumbling
of a voice, as the orange glow caught the pride
of old wood lacquered smooth so any finger can
trace a splash of spilt whiskey into any name
the memory gives as the music closes down.
On some other night a woman waved and said,
“I saw you standing on the bridge today, staring
over the edge and down into the water. I was scared
you were going to jump, right then as I watched.
I would’ve pulled over but I was going the other way.”
For maybe two minutes, I’d stopped to watch gulls
swarming above the river, dozens of them,
just a few yards from the bridge. They screamed
down to the water, dove in turn, completely
submerging themselves, swimming through
the stained water for something I could not see,
their beaks empty when they surfaced, feathers
already dry. They’d hover there briefly, cry out
to the river again, search it, before diving in
once more over and over. Two birds crashed
into each other, veered away, continued on.
There have been days and then days, as there will
be days, days that strangers mark to remind us
there were days, and it is true they were there
for the ticking of the tock, the taking of shots,
the two-page apology notes and dirty cocks,
all the recycled notions the years have given.
Even if we thought our fate relies on the direction
of others, it is simply impossible to contemplate
suicide while watching birds swim beneath
you, and a broken wrist cannot prove it’s worse
than a sore throat, a dented knee, the blistered foot
we all walk on until every step is an old lover’s
heartbeat, laugher at threadbare tales dubbed
epics, birds singing through a hangover dawn,
roommates brewing coffee, tapping on doors.
When we met for lunch in the cafeteria,
you asked me to bring a copy of Pride
and Prejudice bookmarked with a white
rose so you could identify me even though
you knew exactly who I was all along.
I fell asleep drinking table wine in bed and
left myself an illiterate note on the nightstand
that read in the morning you must write her
letters in the morning I wrote you letters of birds
crashing into one another as I wrote them half
asleep in the morning as birds swam through water.
These poems originally appeared at the following publications: “Post-Echo Blackout Drift” at Juked, “Ecosystems” at Burningword, and “Dive” at Drunk Monkeys. Featured image courtesy of Alice Stanford/Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.
Darien Cavanaugh received his MFA from the University of South Carolina. His fiction and poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Sou’wester, The Dos Passos Review, Memoir (and), The Minnetonka Review, The Blue Collar Review, Struggle, Pank, The James Dickey Newsletter, Megaera, The Pickwick Press, Gertrude, I-70 Review, Kakalak, The Gap-Toothed Madness, The Blue Earth Review, and The San Pedro River Review, among others. He is the Founding Director of The Columbia Broadside Project, a member of the Board of Directors for Auntie Bellum, a reporter for War is Boring, a writing instructor at the Tri-District Arts Consortium, and a bartender at The Whig, North America’s greatest dive bar.
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