Early evening in the checkout line,
a pack of condoms on the black conveyor belt,
the young woman picks it up, scans the bar code,
takes my money, gives me change, puts it
in a bag, and tells me, “Have a good night.”
She laughs when I reply, “I intend to!”
Vashti’s mattress and springs were old.
She thought a new mattress might
help her back heal faster,
thought maybe I could help her.
So we went to Carl Johnson’s,
which only had three types,
to Montgomery Ward’s,
to Sears, where the Mexican saleswoman
agreed with every opinion we had,
to a mattress liquidator store,
even to a futon store and foam store.
By the end of the day, Vashti was stumped.
She couldn’t remember what felt better,
The second day, she decided on
the mattress set from the liquidator
upholstered in her favorite bluegreen.
This bluegreen, and a certain shade of lilac,
can make anything look better to her.
I’ve been wearing these colors myself
whenever I come to visit.
Nancy was cleaning motel rooms,
living in an upstairs apartment
with ceilings low like an attic.
She had roommates to help pay the rent
with whom she had odd conflicts,
not to mention her trouble with
the people in the garage downstairs.
She liked to spend Rusty’s visits next door
at the daycare center playground
after they closed at five.
There was a short slide
on a climbing structure,
but what Rusty really liked
was the race car welded from tubing,
with a bench seat, real tires,
and a steering wheel that spun
but didn’t do anything.
Rusty would take the wheel
and drive Nancy somewhere
while they both made engine noises,
When Vashti said she wants to see other men,
I got weirded out but kept my cool.
I told her I love her while we coupled.
She kissed me far more than usual.
Her shudders were high Richter scale.
I called her three days later,
told her I love her again but
I’m scared enough of diseases
to want to stop sleeping with her
if she makes love with other men.
She said she didn’t have anyone in mind
and that my talk of love was making her hot.
In my wishful thoughts, if this turns her on,
maybe she’s close to being in love with me.
I feel more vulnerable than ever.
I bought Rusty and me a pair of Huffy bicycles
from Coast-to-Coast Hardware in Redway.
We ride them on the back streets of Arcata
to neighborhood playgrounds with tube slides
while Vashti’s giving belly-dance lessons.
At home there’s just a little stretch of dirt road
flat enough for us to pedal our bicycles.
What’s weird is that our cat Mary Lou has learned
to like the sensation of riding a bicycle.
She sits on my lap while I’m pedaling,
one hand on the handlebars,
the other holding her steady.
Once in a while she even rides with Rusty.
I’m here, but I have no stories to tell.
I don’t even like reading novels,
let alone writing them.
The child in me wants a beach full
of oversized iguana dimetrodons
like the nineteen fifties movie
of A Journey to the Center of the Earth.
My son Rusty seems so normal,
splashing in the shallow river.
I feel like a species from a lost world,
with no others of my kind to talk to.
My girlfriend’s lying on a towel.
I’m bored and getting sunburned.
I no longer see anything divine
in the beauty of a mountain or a forest.
I don’t have the answer,
and I’m tired of looking for it.
The Cleveland I remember was nothing like
the one Vashti’s making me and Rusty
discover on this labor day weekend.
She’s finding all these ethnic festivals,
on Friday, a Lebanese party in Brooklyn,
with middle eastern food and music,
on Saturday, a Renaissance fair in Bay Village,
with a wench-carrying contest
and a puppet show about a dragon and princess,
on Sunday, the Colonials and Indians craft fair
in Malvern, southeast of Canton,
on Monday, a September Oktoberfest
in Painesville, with suspenders and shorts,
lots of food, people drinking beer,
and tents buffeted by a thunderstorm,
and Monday night, an Italian carnival
at a church on Fulton Road in Cleveland,
with a carousel and double ferris wheel
that both Rusty and I found way too scary.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller