The Drums They Beat

Arm in arm go the couple in white, down the aisle, through the crowd. Vows told in lace, speaking secrets in the midday sun: a bouquet soars across its yellow face. Consummation is a popular word for their grandparents. There’s a quiet announcement in the newspaper: congratulations. Congratulations from friends and family, a high school teacher, a neighbor down the road. Flutes of spirits that sing like bee stings and second helpings of steak. A Bloody Mary drops on the floor. Loosening ties, shimmying off shoes, slipping from dresses getting ready to dance. Loud voices in the barroom, singing on the dance floor: the bride and groom sneak out the back with a bag full of checks and cards. Empty cans of tomato paste clatter down the asphalt, memories of the bride and groom told long after they’re gone. Absolved of old schemes, and disease, and dishonesty, the couple in white take the highway red with sunset. A new house, a new family, a new history to be told: bedsheets aren’t bloodied once. The nursery will not birth itself. The modern Magi come with pins, tack the bedsheets to the roof, and voices come like thunderclaps through the rooms. In a dream the new bride can cry alone, and unravel her dress, threadbare through the red of long years.

Black Dog

I kept the blackout shades drawn tight, dim room. Dim city sounds through the walls, barely audible. Drowsy yellow light from my bedside lamp — it was a small room, filled with yellow uterine warmth. I had a bed, and a desk, I was very fortunate, I had a mini-fridge and a carpet and a TV. I had a roommate who had disappeared into the city, bingeing, and a rent check I couldn’t afford. The store I worked for was shutting down, a job I didn’t like, so I stayed home. I stayed home and let the lead weight of ending days creep closer unannounced. I bought a bag of pot, a case of beer, ordered fast-food to my door, and masturbated frequently. Everything I could ever want to watch was available for download illegally. I watched sci-fi space travels and sitcoms, teen dramas, found nostalgia in the old colors of cartoons. Shows in which the youth always have a happy ending, where their sets are refreshed for the start of each show: A friend’s basement, or a bar, that they know is always there. The familiar tension in a plot line; episodic impermanence, their great shelter from despair. Retreat into your basement, retreat into your spaceship, no one will hate you tomorrow: your friends will be at MacClaren’s. I made a mistake, then, and peeked out the shades, a willingness to survive. I was surprised to find daylight still in the streets. I sat back down on my bed. What an awkward sensation, to be stationary, when you know the unseen world around you heaves and turns. The walls of my bedroom were paper-thin, I could feel the city’s humid heat drop its weight on my skin. I needed to find another apartment. I needed to find another job. I needed to find the courage to speak with people, to shove my will out at the world. But the days had a way of passing by in the night, no pattern to the way they rolled over. There was nothing stable about the ground, no framework in the sky, nothing I could expect but my own surprise at how quickly my grave could be dug.

God found a better job

I hear echoes in the walls, the rattlings of a voiceless savior. Bills pinned to the pantry, I can only sit here and drink and clear my head enough to think that maybe there’s a way to clean the water from our floors. It’s been pooling here a while, coming up to our shins, late nights home from work up in four hours for the next commute. You come home in the mornings sometimes from a bar and find me sleeping on the couch, curled in sweatshirts under blankets. The crib in the bedroom is quiet, swaying gently, and you feel the child’s forehead just to know he isn’t ice. We’ll have a tax return soon to buy heat and more booze. Anything to stay warm and hear the echoes in the walls.

Dreams tend to ferment in vats of wasting time.

You didn’t see me cry as I drove home from work. You didn’t answer your phone, when all I needed was for you to ask if I was okay; I spent some money for gas and spent the rest on a six-pack, got drunk by myself with the child in his crib and for a moment I forgot there was no larger point to this. Than to let the cold water creep onto the bed, fill the fridge, and the pantry, and the cabinets. But for the kid that cries in the crib, when mommy and daddy are too tired and drunk to get up out of bed.

I swear we’ll never win.

You didn’t get a degree when you had the chance. I never had the chance. Sweat labor’s honest work but it doesn’t feed the house. Nor the bureaucratic mouths, with financial attention – I didn’t tell you I almost punched the clerk at the DMV. There’s another hundred-dollar fee to have our registration reinstated, which we may be able to pay once the water goes down. But it won’t go down. The good graces of the landlord wearing thin, the favors of your parents overdrawn, and a car in the driveway that won’t turn-over, the water won’t go down.

I sit here at night too tired to cry, and drink until I’m crazy enough to think there’s a way we’ll get by; that there’s a reason for us to try.

A voiceless savior rattles in the walls, and the heat vents are filled with just echoes.