Fridge Magnets

She showed me a plastic coffee cup coaster,
cut in the shape of the state of California,
which she’d bought in San Diego the year before
and carried home smuggled amidst her socks.

She had two novelty mugs in her cupboard
which she’d picked up somewhere in Missouri
both carrying the emblem of the state, chipped
from bangs in the baggage hold, unusable now.

There were postcards hanging above her bed,
baseballs spotless and decorated for Delaware
football shirts for teams she hadn’t know existed,
boarding passes and tinted sunglasses, her journey
depicted in the possessions she had procured.

I could only show her twelve of my tattoos in return,
explaining them with a story or two as she traced the lines.
My mementos are confined by the boundaries
of my body, suspended on display for all to see,
like fridge magnets collected in the shape of a map

and easier to get through customs.

A

So here’s another poem,
about nostalgic evenings,
taking place after a late night movie
and during a walk through an empty town,
considering the far away music
of loose headphones hanging limply
by my breast pocket.

Here’s another poem about the lights
catching her pale face at all of the right
moments,
illuminating the contours of her cheekbones
as we passed our old school,
sitting still on the edge of the suburbs,
the iron front gate chained shut,
sparking the comment she made
about maybe jumping the fence
when I decided I didn’t want to.

Another poem in the hope of conjuring
something which was forgotten but not yet lost,
only, they’ll never know how that night ended,
because I promised I would never tell,
and I know that she sometimes reads
my writing.

Bottles

I count two hundred and twenty bottles.
We have two recycling bins, both of which
I fill with care to the brim, not wanting to break the glass,
knowing that it would only be more to clean up
afterwards.

Two hundred and twenty bottles for a long year,
our tenancy charted in peeled labels and first gulps
final sips at the end of every other evening,
so much time given to the drink, amongst lesser
pastimes.

Each bottle has its own back-story, some good,
some bad, some barely remembered, some not at all
our collective memory cloudy as the days passed
in a thin crystal stream emptied from a Bacardi bottle
into the sink.

I know which of the bottles are mine – the many ales,
all carefully curated from the many corners
of the nearby grocery stores, chosen by strength,
colour, brewery, all condemned to the shadow of the bin
with the others.

My steady staples of long night drinking sessions,
stained into the seat cushions and soaked deep
into the fabric of this place, to last long after
the cleaning is complete and all that remains
is absence.

IPAs for the summer, spirits for sundown,
every drop a slow poison for rough mornings,
the precursor to a steady crawl through a bedroom door
over a sticky floor, the smell of liquor and sweat hanging
heavy upon the house.

I often thought of myself as a craft ale connoisseurs, but
I was only ever a kid dressed like an adult in a sleepy city,
passing days by getting high and therefore getting by,
finding kicks at the bottom of every last bottle,
stacking them like trophies on the shelves in the living room
and choosing to keep my books in boxes instead,
chasing away the boredom of the evening with another beer,
anticipating the headache of the waiting morning,
which was endured two hundred and twenty times between us.

The bins are full, and now the shelves are finally empty,
meaning that for the first time I have a place to perch
my many books of poetry, which provide a different kick
during evenings spent drinking in Bukowski, instead of drinking
like Bukowski. A year of sobriety perhaps to ponder
just how he managed to go through bottle
after bottle after bottle after bottle
and still somehow manage to write something
worth a damn.

Plastic

I’m drunk, I must be,
because you have that vacant look in your eyes,
right hand down by your side,
copper scarf tight around ivory neck,
as if trying to choke the words you want to say.

I’m spewing about something or other,
slurring the words and mixing up the verbs
and I swear I hear you tut through your teeth,
illuminating as a blur under the incessant hum
of the streetlights marking our way home.

You’re looking out at something in the distant,
which means I’ve lost you to the moment
as the drink rises in my throat like acid
until I have to turn away exhale long and slow,
tasting the first cider of the night from three hours ago.

I’d tell you it was the first of three,
but you know me better than that.
And when I turn back I find I don’t know you at all,
cannot place your sequined top or skinny jeans,
before realising the fool I’ve been.

Confessing the exploits of the night to who I thought was Madeline,
but is actually just a storefront mannequin.
I stumble home, tell her I can get past this,
that she’s worth more than the woman wrapped in plastic.

Chichester, May 2017

Winning in Retrospect

I found a winning lotto ticket tucked into my wallet,
which I had bought in a New York City corner store
for five dollars with a doughnut devoured soon after,
the ticket forgotten, now frayed around the edges.

Turns out that it’s a winner, worth twenty dollars now,
but is useless at the co-op five minutes from my house;
I’ll save it should I ever return to the Big Apple,
spend the winnings on a Times Square sandwich,
or on music in a Manhattan record store, see a movie
in a Brooklyn dine-in cinema and stretch for some fries.

Until then, I’ll leave it pinned to my bedroom wall,
a constant reminder of money spent well that fall.

Chichester, May 2017

The woman sat beside me on the plane…

…has fallen asleep softly on my shoulder.
I haven’t the heart to wake her up during,
deciding that anyone able to drift off
at forty-thousand feet deserves their sleep.

I catch a glimpse of her through my phone screen,
she’s cute, drained from a prolonged airport stay,
hair dishevelled, but pretty all the same, slim frame,
make-up heavy around her eyes in order to hide
the bags beneath her eyes, acquired in the lounge.

Sat like we are, will fellow passengers picture us
as husband and wife? If they did, would you mind?
I can’t say that I would, it’s been years since I last
took a beautiful woman on holiday, anywhere,
and I’d be happy to take you everywhere.

Perhaps I’ll ask for your hand before we land.

Chichester, May 2017

On Serving Couples

First shift of the week.
The only customers I serve
come as couples, hand in hand,
sharing smiles between the aisles.

Five hours of till work,
endless click of the cash register drawer.
Five hours and fifty tubs of ice cream,
slowly melting on the belt,
taken from a trolley filled with shampoo,
‘his’ and ‘hers’ mugs, a packet of condoms,
selection of sweets for an evening couch stint.

I can spot a couple before I even begin
to run their groceries through the till,
distinguished by a glow as they start to unload,
always more ready to talk than the single folk,
asking for DVD recommendations,
to which I almost suggest ‘Saw III,’
just out of spite, hold my tongue,
placing their food in bags because
they’re often too wrapped up in each other
to remember to wrap up their fruit,
smile of pity from the female
as I hand her a fresh bag of kale.

After couple number nine,
I stop asking how their day as been,
no longer curious about what they’ve been up to,
deciding that I don’t particularly care.

They’re always having good days anyway.

Instead, I start picturing the girlfriend in bed,
the way her hair smells after she’s run
each of the conditioners she’s buying through it,
the noise she makes when he goes down on her.
Picture her wearing the lingerie she’s purchased,
her boyfriend winking at me over the wine,
knowing that he’s played his cards right.
Pathetic of me, but so is looking at the legs
of passersby and imagining my hand on their thighs.

I don’t enquire about evening plans,
because their answers remind me just
how lonely I am in comparison,
stacking shelves until midnight before
going home to that same single bed,
waking up at ten and doing it all again
as they share a dinner for two.

Chichester, June 2017