The bartender brings drinks I did not order and tells me she used to dance under the name Kandi Cigarettes. Fake ashes and the taste of chalk, the hunger of strangers. She says she learned more about human nature than she cares to repeat, more about desire, about emptiness. She says she did this trick on stage with Mentos and a two-liter of Diet Coke. She says the symbolism was obvious but the money was good. When she bends over for ice, her shirt pulls up. The tattoo on the small of her back is maybe a rose. Maybe a dragon. She says, “Try this one, it tastes just like a Snickers.” She says, “You should have seen the ending, it was something.” She says, “I was something,” and she’s looking past me, at some idea of herself that she can’t quite see, that maybe no one has seen, and I’m thinking about her skin all wet and slick and saccharine, and I’m drinking this drink, and this drink is so sweet it hurts my teeth. She is right about how it tastes. She is right about everything.
LOVE POEM FOR A SHORT-LIVED TELEVISION SHOW
(The Wrecking Crew, ABC, Fall 1991)
Even the best hour has no room for comedy and drama. Not choosing is the mistake that cannot be forgiven. Once it’s too late, it’s easy to blame time. To say you expected more than four episodes to put the world in order. But there always was only one possible ending. You knew this. The way Dan knew the first time he looked at Denise, the whole of their love story arcing before him even though she was engaged to Brett. The way we all knew, because Brett was a special guest and only stars fall in love. The way Julio knew he never was going to fix those dents in his truck. The way Crazy Teddy and Happy knew their friendship mattered more than the bickering and eventually they would have a chance to prove it. The way the chess board on that stack of old tires was a metaphor: no one knew who else was playing but someone kept making all the right moves. Everything is a metaphor. Those stranded strangers in this crowded but inevitably lonely city, their flat tires and fender-benders, their drained batteries and hissing radiators. And you, all of you, with your straight teeth and imitation bodies and blue jumpsuits with the perfect grease stains and the talking parrot in the garage who always got the hour’s last line. If any of it sounds too easy, it’s because time is a kind of geography. Imagine it: a map, a truck, a destination. Imagine someone waiting. Imagine someone who needs you.
Amorak Huey, a longtime newspaper editor and reporter, now teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His chapbook The Insomniac Circus is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press, and his poems appear in The Best American Poetry 2012, The Cincinnati Review, Thrush, Menacing Hedge, and other journals. Follow him on Twitter: @amorak.
Lead image: “Oslo bar” (via Flickr user Martyn Smith)