i. Love Just Off The Thruway
It was probably all down to kids from the state school out in Geneseo,
The adage being they went to Rochester to get drunk, Batavia to be disorderly.
Whoever the culprits may have been, there it was
Painted plain as day on the old New York Central trestle
At the far end of Oak Street, just before the Thruway on-ramp:
Love Is Always The Answer—not a untenable sentiment on its face,
But the postulate was accompanied by stick figures
Illustrating its corollaries in several imaginative and provocative ways.
As the state boys took pictures and made notes to be filed and forgotten,
Tom Vilsack from the DPW looked on, alternating grimaces with outright scowls,
Knowing that, even with power washers and paint thinner,
Cleaning off the trestle would require backs and elbows and ladders,
Which meant a boatload of overtime for the county finance guys
To whine about (not that, being thrice-married and twice-divorced,
He wasn’t already aware of the adverse relationship
Between amorousness and the bottom line),
Plus this time of year you didn’t know
If you were going to get June-like heat or flurries or maybe both,
Which meant on and off with layers of shirts and jackets,
And he could already feel his sinuses going absolutely ape-shit with pain,
Well, that’s love for ya, one of his crew said, to which Tom all but spat
Love, peace, fuck–it’s all just goddamn vandalism.
ii. “…THE SAME FORCE AND EFFECT AS AN ORDER OF FILIATION…”
She’d said she wasn’t expecting or demanding a goddamn thing
(It’s probably your kid, she said, But I wouldn’t swear to it)
And his buddies swore he was crazier than a shithouse rat
To even think about going along with the whole idea
After she all but given him a Get Out Of Jail Free card,
But he’d gone ahead and signed all the paperwork
Which, in the eyes of the state and the child-support folks,
Made him the one true father of this baby-to-be.
He couldn’t explain why he hadn’t fought the notion tooth-and-nail,
Save for the occasional muttered Baby oughtta have a father,
But there was more to it that; he had a vague notion
That knowing half of who you were was worse
Than having no knowledge at all, your whole reason for being
Becoming the exploration of odd hunches and unrealized fears,
The study of every man that crossed your mother’s path
In the hope (or, more likely, the absolute and utter dread)
That you were glimpsing a part of your genetic destiny,
Though such a line of thought was probably just bullshit,
A product of Genesee Cream Ale philosophizing.
When the time came, he’d agreed– an idea which reduced his friends
To mute amazement and slow, sad head shaking–to be present at the birth,
And, after those undertakings he’d just as soon not have seen were complete,
The nurse (saying It’s a boy. A big, beautiful healthy boy.)
Handed him a black-mouthed, screaming little mass, fists clenched tightly,
Entire body tensed as if it realized just how unadvisable the whole situation was.
Faced with this tangible evidence of his ostensible patrimony,
He found himself unable to say anything except Holy shit. Ho-lee shit.
iii. As The Old Joke Goes, “In The Morning? Bitch, I Don’t Respect You Now.”
He had, of course, forgotten her name, assuming he’d ever known it,
And so it had been chica and hija and amada all night,
Though, to be fair, she couldn’t remember if he was Juan or Jhonny or Jesus;
She simply remembered that he was Colombian,
All dark hair and bright smiles and quite tall
Although that could have just been a trick of the eye,
As his friends were all compact squatness,
Which she had pointed out while they were dancing,
To which he’d subsequently horse-laughed out loud.
Chica, he’d fairly shouted over the music,
The best way to be good looking is to have ugly friends.
He’d come to Batavia to hunker down for winter
After the wineries had buttoned things up for the season,
Spending his time catching odd jobs here and there;
Anything to get by, he’d said with the most outrageous of winks.
She’d had no intention, none whatsoever, of taking him home,
But anything to get by takes in any multitude of sins, venal and otherwise.
She woke up about two-thirty or so, all damp with sweat
And the remnants of lovemaking, to see him awake and getting dressed.
Before she could say a thing, he put a finger to her lips.
Shhh chica, he said softly and soothingly, like he was trying to hush an infant,
I got some stuff I really need to take care of– look, we’ll get breakfast, OK?
You know the Bob Evans out by the highway? Six o’ clock, eh?
And with that, it was a quick, almost brotherly, peck on the cheek,
Then he was gone, so stealthily that she was briefly unsure
That he’d ever indeed been there at all.
Breakfast, can you imagine she thought as she rolled over to get some sleep,
Like I’m even awake at such an hour.
iv. We Don’t Ask For Directions, And We Sure As Hell Don’t Make Lists
There had been no blowup, no volcanic incidents of infidelity
No grotesque financial stupidity; the china and glasses had remained unbroken,
The plaster-and-lath not displaced by the seismic slamming of doors.
It had been slow, subtle, like the slow unraveling of a thread here in there
Opening up a gaping hole in a old comfortable sweater,
Or how the unhurried, innocent seeping of water
Would occasionally cause an outcropping of rock
To tumble into the gorges over at Letchworth.
Oh, there had probably been the proverbial last straw:
Maybe the new refrigerator that didn’t fit through a single door
In the entire house (and who in hell bought something like that
Without taking measurements anyway),
Or the foolhardy extended warranty on the Volvo,
Which had damn near a hundred and fifty thousand miles on it
And had no more trade-in value than a Matchbox miniature of the model,
But it any case, the immediate cause was more symptom than disease, anyway.
He’d packed a couple of bags with the basics to shit, shave, shower and dress,
And jumped into the ancient but well-protected wagon,
Heading to God only knows where–his brother in York, maybe,
Or his mom’s place way the hell up in Tupper Lake,
(Not that he had the stomach for the questions and sidelong looks that entailed)
But about ten miles out he realized he’d forgotten his goddamn bike.
Shit, shit, stupid shit he said, pounding the steering wheel in rhythm;
The notion of going back like some dumb-ass eight-year-old,
All hang-dog look and tail between his legs was not particularly appealing,
But the notion of having to kill time without the prospect of a bike ride
(Wind in what was left of his hair, the barking in his calves as he climbed an incline,
The whole damn freedom of the thing) was too much to consider,
So he swung the car around and headed back.
She was, as he knew she would be, waiting in the doorway with the bike
(Damn near sharing a brain after all this time, to be sure),
Her face hung with a look not really a smile or frown or anything that fit a definition,
But endearing all the same, and he heard a voice not quite his ask
Well, is it OK if I come in for a few minutes?
v. The Bob Evans Out By The Highway
…the fuck am I doing here anyway, she thought,
Staring down at the table, chunky taupe-ish coffee mugs
And logo plates, fine china for everyone and no one,
Set for two (she hadn’t ordered, she was waiting for someone)
The restaurant more or less empty,
Only the odd trucker or senior citizen who was still on rat-race time.
The clock had hit six-fifteen when she,
Eyes cloudy and threatening to ambush hastily applied mascara,
Was ready to flag down the waitress to let her know
That she was just a coffee, thanks, when he walked in,
No, burst in, like a madness of chrysanthemum
Where there had only been undifferentiated greenery the moment before.
I’m sorry, chica, he said, bending over to kiss her cheek,
This whole life thing gets in the way sometimes, eh?
He sat down, slapping the table with both hands
Man, I could eat a horse, he said, all but snorting,
And what better place than this, mmm?