How Far From
Sleeping on the floor and make-shift beds
or couch cushions pushed together,
tremor-shocked bodies locked and locked out, of hope.
The self-imposed homelessness of truckstop parking lots,
tacking up tattered curtains against the agony of light.
Boosting a path across towns and counties,
waiting on the clinic to open, on the promise of a broken crutch.
Days of razorblades, hidden under scorched tongues,
of whispering wants turned into screaming needs.
Of getaways and a.m. apprehensions, handcuffs and rights read,
synchronizing alibis, and sharing backseats, shackled.
Cold stone of a holding cell, of never rolling over,
the crack of the gavel, a bell across time.
Years breathing free and even now it sounds,
so clearly in your ears.
Winter Wedding at the VFW
The bride is my mother’s age
and working on number three,
a ratty man with a few good teeth,
while the hired band stands blazered
in white, a quintet of ghosts, burning
through a catalog of classics
on a make-shift stage.
Pairs of bodies part and come together,
in the coat room, outside in the chill,
where neon beer signs make embers
of the falling snow.
We swallow what we can
from flimsy plastic cups
and pay our dollar to dance,
to pretend we aren’t hopelessly alone,
even if the morning finds most of us
bruised, quietly cut open.
The opening trill of “Love Me Two Times”
spills from battered amps
and fills the rented space,
while the heat of a hundred broken hearts
in need of mending moves us,
the last of the lost ones,
who would be happy enough
to be loved just once.
Before the Mind and Body Fail, as Is Their Fate
Do not assume there is a point to any of this, except that I have tried, sought to know the question if not the answer in every thing that has hurled itself against the door of me, in every image that has crashed through these twin apertures, curled itself along these optic nerves, waded in the flooded rift of synapse. In the old men who grieve over gardens and graves, who leave their lights on and doors open for their dead. The women folded like paper swans, frozen in time. The painted freights that wail all night past the last mill. In the stories stuck in the hollow bones of the city, the sirens splitting the air toward a life cut short, the bullets that bowled the body over. In the howling vacancies and reclaimed remains of East Side streets. In the rusting bridges of Cleveland and Youngstown and Pittsburgh, in the burning metal smell of a third shift along the river, the smoke stacks spewing ghosts. The tombs of avenues standing slant like crooked teeth, from Judson to the overpass and deep into the valley, lots dotted with irrevocable ruin, the Isaly’sdiner, where boys broke fast and last night’s drunk, in the market across the road, where they stole smokes and sent the songs of their boredom skyward, like bird chatter the clatter of smashed glass bottles ringing, in the clinic where they went to kick but got kicked out, the sober club, where those that made it, clinging the wagon reins, could get a hot cup and hold each other up for an hour or two, sometimes the only difference between living and dying. In the funeral processions you can set a watch to. In the bodies of trod upon gods. And as long as this form still stirs, as long as this mind keeps at bay the small betrayals, as long as they both withstand the cage of aging, I will lean into the turning, strip every scrap of salvageable grist from this burning world, grip them in my fist, white-knuckled, and work the knots before they’re lost, before at last it’s all forgotten.
Poem for the Going and Gone
Weeks before winter, the strips thin out and places where once we’d ride the night grow ghostly—the curbs and benches, the spot beside the bank, where we’d sift snipes like panned gold from ashcan trash and stitch seasons into songs. And inside we’dhide from daylight, earth’s tilt turning cool to cold to colder to hurt and the sun would only rise to make us snow blind in the spiral. And to think we thought we had it beat. Whose shadowsare we? We who toss away clean time like so many coins into the wish fountain. Lifelong pleas plunked and rippled, met time and time again with only and echo. But oh, the sidewalks in spring—record shops with doors propped open, rows of free-bin LPs tucked under our arms like children, sunlight folded into our pockets to warm us later, like the first burn of a single-barrel straight or the soft massage of a filling vein, a spilled glass of warm water, up the spine and across the shoulders, a weight that feels like love. The nights posted up outside the concert hall, reading aloud the names and phrases painted on the crumbling walls, where we spoke in tongues and let the night take them, carry them over the skyline, the river, the streets that were once our streets, blocks demolished and with them that time, those stone stairwells we descended with brilliance shining from our throats in golden shafts, keeping alight what would soon burn out if not for us, you and me and all the others unbound but bound for this thing that keeps calling. And who would grieve our leaving? Who would fill the space where we carried our dead? Still, some things are worth it. Known only after. A point at which it all becomes a sigh of survival or just another fissure in a heart which beats itself toward stillness, toward some kind of dark, or light.
William R. Soldan is an American fiction writer and poet from northeast Ohio whose work has been published in dozens of journals, magazines, and anthologies. He teaches workshops focused on establishing place, developing voice, and exploring hybrid forms.