by Steve Merino
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
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.
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