Not the planes you took solo some summers
to see your grandma, your father’s blood.
Not the Amtrak you took with your mother in
dark-of-morning rain to pick up a set of wheels to
get you through winter. But the bus bounding
three days westward. Watching lives, landscapes,
shaping and shrinking like moments: exchanges in stations,
the French woman who sat beside you, offered you gum
in her sweet tongue as you puffed an unlit Camel in OK City,
just blocks away from buildings scarred by the bomb.
The one you rode north, tracking miles through gray plains,
drinking masked brandy, sharing blankets with strangers
while your wife was getting clean back east.
The one that never reached your destination
but arrived each time to take you there.
The Whistle Stop Inn—
as if this were some brick and wrought iron lodging
on the cobbled street of a foggy gas-lit square
instead of a dive bar across from a Hoosier state bus terminal.
But what are names but falsehoods anyway,
a drink but a way to kill time?
And if dollars were bullets, buddy, I’d have enough slugs
to pick off the lonely minutes until bodies of hours lay in heaps
all along this cold dead street.
My hands are stiff and splintered from loading and unloading
trucks to get this far (and yet only halfway there),
with cash that’s lasted longer than it ever would have
now that the monkey’s been sent packing.
Sure, it’ll be gone before too long, too soon not to toast those still standing
or falling or lying prone with hands splayed and reaching out,
those closing the place down or huddled beside the station doors,
spare-changing to cop a shot or a half-pint bottle
like those on the shelf above the till.
So let’s do this right and finish it off, all of it, what we started
since departing, all that’s left before we go.
The Biggest Little City in the World, but tonight
just another dour oasis no different than the last.
Had family out here, gave up north snow for glitz
and blasted sands. Twelve, thirteen years old when
he called collect from a Nevada slam. Years before
he told me why: he’d robbed a casino—the Atlantis
or Peppermill, or maybe the Grand Sierra—that
I was his neph and he loved me like a son.
His sister was out here running, too, keeping Johns to
keep atop a mean jones. Or was it Phoenix or Santa Fe?
Bought me smokes and a cold sixer, took me to a trailer
party in the Wisconsin woods last time I saw her. She’d
had a husband who ate a twelve-gauge slug and left nothing
but a ghost and red memory. Imagine that’d twist a person
a dozen different ways.
I see them the way they were, hell-bent and a hundred feet tall.
We swore he’d outlive us all, but weren’t surprised when he didn’t.
Though I wonder if she’s here, among these tired faces, beneath
these greasy lights, or elsewhere on the basin, perhaps calling
along the many faults for someone to bring her home, even far as
Badwater, sinking into the salt.
In the Shadow of Circling Birds
I’ve had this fantasy since I was young:
coming to a place like this, like so many
passed through to get here, landscape hazed
with heat and spirits, towns like the scattered toys
of some bored Titan, left to warp and rust beneath
a raging star, in wind of dust, in fugitive rain,
to drink fire and the blood of snakes in the curtained
rooms of shoebox motels till dusk, when I’d stumble
booted and whiskey drunk, tumble into the brush of
a whispering arroyo, eyes to the glittering wheel, which
would slowly dim and wink out when the sun took its turn,
plenty of light for the vultures picking at my bones.
William R. Soldan is a fiction writer and poet living in the Ohio Rust Belt. He’s the author of the story collections In Just the Right Light and Lost in the Furrows, with another collection and a novel forthcoming in 2021. He’s published work across genre in a variety of print and online venues, many of which can be found at williamrsoldan.com if you’re interested. You can also find him on Twitter and the like if you’d like to connect.