by Steve Merino

Just Columbus

I heard your mom drives you to work every morning; that you still live in her

basement & don’t like the same music anymore, the kind we’d scream in my Ford

Explorer with the jammed door & to be honest I don’t listen to it much either, but

sometimes I do & I think of you & being sixteen in Columbus Township which

got too big & is now just Columbus. A few weeks ago I was there & didn’t

recognize the streets we used to drive, now all spotted with roundabouts like the

whole town is dreaming of an exit. On Fridays while the kids we didn’t talk to

were watching football & going to parties, we were chasing the moon down

Kettle River with our headlights off to the sounds of local hardcore bands &

sneaking Bacardi from our parents’ liquor cabinets, playing PS3 together & alone.

Now you sit at a bar ordering drinks; I’m thirsty too. Trust me, I didn’t think this

would be my life at twenty-nine; I’m good, but sometimes I lose track & drink too

much. Sometimes I don’t mean to, but sometimes I do. I’m still conscious of the

way everyone looks at me while I speak. Remember Sonny before he was Skrillex

singing of “Failure by Designer Jeans”? Or that summer we only listened to

Underoath & screamed with Spencer: I know there must be some way out of here?

Some days I’m not so sure. Listen, I’m not sorry about most things, but I’m sorry

I wasn’t there when you landed upside-down in that ditch off Broadway, sorry I

stopped calling, sorry I didn’t ask if you were OK when Hannah overdosed in her

room & died there, too. I wanted to tell you to stay away from pills & powders,

from bad friends, but I was a bad friend too. I never wanted to admit that &

figured being nothing was better than being bad. Do you ever feel that? I used to

think we’d become regulars somewhere in Minneapolis, telling stories about

pulling each other from mosh pits & feeling alive, but we drifted apart & made

mistakes & every roundabout I see now asks: haven’t we all, haven’t we all,

haven’t we all? 

To My Father on His Birthday

Dad, we are both getting older 

              & most of your hair is gone. 


                                            There’s a scar down your back 

                                                                                          from when doctors cut you open 

                            & put metal rods in your spine. Similar to the rebar 


              we pulled from our yard & tossed 

                                                          into the place where we’d eventually pour a patio. 


For so long I’ve thought we were the same.

                                            The other day I pointed out 

                                                                                                              a hawk circling a lake 

               mid-conversation & commented on its wingspan. 

                              I asked a waiter for their opinion 

                                                                           on the coleslaw. 

Do you remember the tightness of the December morning 


                                                                                            when your mother died 

                                               from a constellation of disease 


                                in her lungs? After her death my birthday card 

                                                              arrived from her with a dollar bill & 


                                              I tucked it away in a drawer. 


                                                          In a way 

               she was another river refusing to end. 

                                                                             Is it obvious I need approval? 


                                                               It’s your birthday & I’m waiting to call. 


Maybe we can speak of all the ways 

                             to lash two posts together, or ghosts 


             or how 

                           when I was younger, you would sit me on your lap 


                                                                                                       & drive us in circles 

              around the yard on the riding mower 

                                                                            searching for a portal 

to a small town in Illinois or perhaps


                                             the perfect blade of grass. 

                               Or how I’d wait on the steps for you


              to arrive home from work, smelling of stale coffee & dreaming of sacrifice, 

                                                           then watch as you methodically filled 


the bird feeder, careful to spill a little for the squirrels. 


                                                I like to think I’ve mastered 

                                                                             the art of holding on & the ability 

                               to bury so much silence in my throat. 


                                                              I’m trying to be better 


            about noticing hands, sore from labor 

                                            & listening for birds in the morning. 

Poetry - Steve M.jpg

Steve Merino (he/him/his) lives in Saint Paul, MN. His previous work can be found in or is forthcoming to Ghost City Review, Mineral Lit Mag, Oyster River Pages, littledeathlit, and You Flower / You Feast. Find him on twitter: @steve_merino