Poetry » Roxanne Lynn Doty »

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Coming Home, New Year’s Eve

They’ve been sitting at the bar since you were eighteen and used stolen ID to get into places like this in a Phoenix reduced now to slivers of city untouched, simpler and more confused than western dreams of renewal, worn and weathered nerve ends of living that still shimmer like the bottles of Red Stag, Mango Jack, Bicardi, Jose Cuervo  and New Castle Brown Ale beneath the flat screen on the wall behind the bar. The woman with the curly blond hair at the end, the man with the white hair and short beard, baseball cap almost to his eyes staring at hands folded on the bar as if in prayer while a local jazz band begins a set with a keyboard riff you think is Rikki Don’t Lose That Number from the time your future lay in front of you like loose change on the bar and you could wrap your arms around the possibilities, hold them in place, but the clack and ding of a pinball machine interrupts and you realize it isn’t Rikki Don’t Lose That Number but Horace Silver’s Song for My Father, for all fathers, for your own father who also sat in this bar all those years, lost in glass after glass of Rheingold Extra Dry, Camel cigarette butt dangling from his  fingers, ashes missing the tray, head nodding until they asked you to take him home, he too far gone to protest, slumping into the winter night, smiling for a second when the cold hit his face, teeth white and shiny the only part of him not stained with sorrow and you sense he is here amongst those who have sit for so many years at this bar where nothing changes.

The jazz number ends and a woman in a long flowing red blouse with black and green birds approaches the stage, jet black hair hangs below her waist, a shaman with a message for the new year and as she reaches for the mike the drummer begins a slow, steady drumbeat accompanied by the crying wail of a harmonica that reminds you of Jim Morrison’s Texas Big Beat rising out of the swamps but you are in this desert city tonight, coming home to this dive bar you’ve missed for so long and the shaman woman  speaks of 2016 and its end and the world and the country and the neighborhoods and time – time you can’t slap on your wrist, program into your cell phone.  We are here for a brief series of moments, she says.  In the spaces of the music, life’s sole grace. And the goal is the same for all the pinball games, keep the silver balls from disappearing into the abyss.

Interview with the Dean

His shoes are shiny and your breasts are full with milk whose weight you feel as you look at his ebony Oxfords not a spot of dust or scuff, they remind you of those old black Mary Jane Easter shoes polished to a sheen with Vaseline petroleum jelly, but not as bright as his, which almost blind as he asks you about your writing plans for the next six years, which will come quickly, he says, the tenure decision just around the corner though now it may seem far away it is something that must constantly be kept in mind, never lost sight of because every single thing you do from day one will be judged based upon projections of future successes, making a mark, bringing prestige to the institution and generally living up to, and your breasts have become so heavy as if about to burst and you are certain they must be leaking, but dare not look down to see, dare not take your eyes off of his which are glacial blue, because you do not want to seem distracted or intimidated though you do observe a slip of sock visible just above his right shoe, thin gray material, which looks like silk and matches his perfectly pressed slacks and you detect a flaw, a tear almost imperceptible, the only physical defect in this sterile room except the circles of  breast milk you imagine staining your blouse and then he says something about more children, or another child, or child care, or children and careers, or women and children and before you can determine if this is a question this man who wears the slick shoes proceeds to say that you would be a target of opportunity hire, an effort at diversity, if, of course, the academy makes an offer and you note the stress he places on this conjunction, the power of the conditional clause and your eyes go again to the imperfect sock, the breast milk hot under your skin as if just boiled and tested on the inside of your wrist so it will not burn your baby girl’s throat and again he says the word “if,” if you are chosen, you must promise them;
your voice –
and all of your words –