by Jay Leeming

And because my father knew the prophecy
that his own son would kill him
my mother put me in a basket and set me adrift

in the river. And I floated out to sea

where for nine days and nine nights I was carried
by the waves until a fisherman found me
and took me to his hut and warmed me by the fire.

And he and his wife raised me there beside the crush

and roar of the ocean which every evening
brought my new father home. And one night a god
appeared to me in a dream and gave me the gift

of song, and when I awoke I sang the poem of creation

out into the shells and the grasses and the distant hills.
So the fisherman took me to a castle
where I became Chief Bard to the king and fell in love

with his beautiful daughter. And we were married

and soon she gave birth to a son but one night
he was stolen from us by the King of the Bears.
So I took up my sword and song and followed his tracks

deep into the mountains where the trees sang wild

and green around me until I came to a field
strewn with empty beer bottles and cigarettes,
until I came to a ragged line of bushes and stumbled

out into the parking lot between Office Max

and Hollywood Video and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Across the highway I could see hundreds
of parked cars and behind them Barnes and Noble

and Tops Friendly Market. I had a few coins

in my pocket. Beside me was a large metal dumpster
full of returned DVDs. I had nowhere to go
and so began walking along the side of the road,

through the grass littered with empty plastic bottles

and lost hubcaps and crushed cans of Budweiser
and broken glass. The traffic was relentless, one set
of headlights after the other pummeling the darkness

until it was only a tattered rag of shadows and fumes.

I saw the matted fur of some dead animal,
the husk of a shredded truck tire, a gas station up ahead.
And though a lot happened to me after that

none of it is worth telling. It’s not a story,

and if somehow it’s part of a larger harmony
I’ve lost the ears to hear it. And you should just
forget all of this, should just keep driving

with your hands on the wheel and your foot

on the accelerator, eyes staring straight ahead,
heart lost in the oblivion of headlights and mileage.
Nothing I’ve said is important, and anyway

you’re going too fast to hear, too fast to catch sight

of the scrap of my shadow against the guardrail.
You’re used to forgetting things, accustomed
to letting an entire city dwindle and fade behind you

like something tossed from the back of a ship.

But despite your car and your credit card
you’re as nameless as I am,
a nobody, just another blank space

in a larger equation of advertising and hurt.

We’re interchangeable. And in a different hour
I’ll be the one in the expensive car
and you the one walking by the side of the road.

I’m going about eighty miles an hour, immersed

in Lite Rock 97, living in the glitter of guitar riffs
and commercials for pain relievers. And you
have worn that same coat for months, stained

as it is with mud and coffee and your own urine.

If you’re lucky you’ll find a half-eaten piece of pizza
in the garbage can of the Shop ’n Save Mart,
maybe some cold coffee or a stale donut

in the dumpster, a few cigarette butts scattered

on the pavement outside the door.
The wind is cold. All you can do is keep walking.
The grass flickers a little as I drive past.

Published on February 8, 2012