We both know the smell of a convenience store at 4 a.m. like the backs
of alotta hands.
She sells me trucker crack/Mini-Thins (it’s like Vivarin).
She doesn’t make me feel awkward about it.
She can tell it’s been a long drive and it’s only gonna get longer.
Offers me a free cup of coffee, but I never touch the stuff.
Besides, I’m gonna need more speed than that.
We notice each other’s smiles immediately.
It’s our favorite thing for people to notice—our smiles.
It’s all either one of us has to offer.
You can see it in the way our cheeks stretch out like arms
wanting nothing more than to say, “You are welcome here.”
shows brittle nicotine teeth with spaces between each one.
Her fingers are bony, there’s no rings on’m, and she’d love to get’er nails
One time she had’er hair fixed.
They took out the grease, made it real big on top, and feathered it.
She likes it like that.
She’ll never be fully informed on some things just like I will never understand
who really buys Moon Pies, or those rolling, wrinkled, dried-up sausages.
But then again, she’s been here a lot longer than me.
She’s seen everything
from men who grow dread locks out of their top lips
to children who look like cigarettes.
I give’er my money.
I wait for my change.
But I feel like there’s something more happening here.
like a warm mop bucket and dingy tiles that’ll never come clean.
I feel like these freezers cannot be re-stocked often enough.
I feel like trash cans of candy wrappers
with soda pop dripping down the wrong side of the plastic.
I feel like everything just got computerized.
I feel like she was raised to say a LOT of stupid things about a color.
And I feel like if I were to identify myself as gay—
this conversation would stop.
It’s what I do.
I get scared sometimes.
And I drive.
…But in 1 minute and 48 seconds I’m gonna walk outta here with a full tank of
gas, a bottle of Mini-Thins, and a pint of milk while there’s a woman still
trapped behind a formican counter somewhere in North Dakota who says she
wants nothing more than to hear my whole story, all 92,775 miles of it.
I can feel it though, y’all, she’s heard more opinions and trucker small talk than
Santa Claus has made kids happy, so I only find the nerve to tell’er the good
parts, that she’s the kindest thing to happen since Burlington, VT, and I wanna
leave it at that because men—who are not smart—have taken it farther, have
cradled her up like a nutcracker and made her feel as warm as a high school education
on the dusty back road, or a beer, in a coozy.
I feel like she’s been waiting here a long time for the one who’ll come 2-steppin’
through that door on 18 wheels without makin’er feel like it’s her job to
sweep up the nutshells alone when she’s done been cracked again, who won’t
tempt her to suck the wedding ring off his dick, but will show her— simply—
She doesn’t need me or any other man but she doesn’t know that either, and I’m
just hopin’ like crazy she doesn’t think I’m the one because the only time I’ll
ever see North Dakota again is in a Van Morrison song late (LATE) at night, I
Y’all, I feel like she’s 37 years old wearing 51 (badly), dying inside (like certain
kinds of dances around fires) to speak through you, a forest, if you weren’t so
taken with sparks.
But she was never given those words.
She has not been told she can definitely change the world.
She knows some folks do
but not in convenience stores
and NOT with lottery tickets
I finally ask’er what I’ve been feelin’ the entire time I’ve been standin’ there
gettin’ scared like I do sometimes
really (REALLY) ready to drive
“Is this it for you?
Is this all you’ll ever do?”
That tightly strapped-in pasty skin
She said (not knowin’ my real name),
“I can tell, buddy, by the Mini Thins and the way ya drive—
we’re both taken with novelty.
We’ve both believed in mean gods.
We both spend our money on things that break too easily like…
And I can tell
you think you’ve had it rough
so especially you should know…
It’s what I do,
I get high sometimes.
And I’m gonna roll outta here one day.
I just might not get to drive.”
–from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry
READER FAVORITE: Many thanks to James Rice who mentioned this as a favorite poem from the Words archives (we ran it here in July 2015; though it was originally published at Rattle Magazine, linked above.) James enjoys sharing poetry with his family and friends and said, “Poetry is a light that shines onto something deeper that adds to our inner lives.”
So true, James, so true. Keep shining and keep sharing. Love, Christy