Volume XXII | 2023 Lacroute Prize Winner
Once, you watched a boy who serenaded you
in a high school classroom do a line of coke off of a coffee table
at a house party. The memory of it returns to you on an errand run
done after a visit to your parents' house in your hometown.
It's jarring-not the image itself,
but the comfort the nostalgia brings you.
You check your phone walking down the sidewalk.
Somebody's ignoring your texts. It's me, and
word on the street is that you deserve better;
that I've gone out with the trees, a mess of green leaves
and red metal toppling and rolling downhill.
There's a weary beat cop and a lonesome town crier
on Main Street at the four-way stop.
Their boots mix in with crumpled bags of chips on the corner.
A phone rings as you approach and they glance
at one another. They watch as you go. One looks
you up and down and sighs, the other rolls his eyes
and shouts at the top of his lungs.
"It's not worth it! She can't even make it out of bed to honor your plans"
and he's right. The sound of his voice ringing
in your ears gives you pause as you step
into the dispensary to pick out your weed, labeled
mango diesel.' It smells sharp in there,
an aftertaste of indecency saunters in
on the way out as a bell jingles
and a paperboy slaps a roll against your chest,
one that you nearly light up before stopping
and reading the headline, "She got coffee
with someone else fifteen minutes ago"
and the subtitle under that, "She is ruled
You toss the paper onto the sidewalk and head back to your car.
You walk past doors which once housed bars
that you watched as a child through the window of the car;
all with cozy names like 'Sundowner' and 'White Horse'
and 'Hitching Post.' There's a white horse statue on top
of the place that frames Main Street
with its picturesque statue white horse cock flying free,
reared back on its back hooves like
it's ridden by God. You can't take your eyes off of it.
There's nothing on the horse's back
but you find a flier with a printed cross on your car
which you pick up off of the windshield by lifting
up the wipers son that beat-up sedan you drive.
You get in and you turn the key in the ignition
and light the car up and start a cigarette
with the flier in your hand. It too reads that I am worth nothing.
This time it says "She is weighed down to drown
by a beast you could never kill,
but Jesus is king and save you he will,
call 1-800-NEED-HIM now."
You roll down the window before smoke fills the car
and drop the flier in the empty passenger's seat
while you take a puff. You put the car in reverse
and then you put it in drive,
spent-shell cigarette smoke mingling with your fingertips
as the car starts to fly down Main Street. You pass a house there
with the stars and bars pinioned in the front window;
anger bubbles up in your chest and heat rises
to your cheekbones. You take a long draw
on that cigarette and the itch of smoke in your throat
nearly draws out a cough. You decide that's enough
and toss it out of the window
as you pass a chain grocery store half-constructed.
The sign at the highway to this place is an ugly honey yellow
backlit with black text and it reads, "Your friend, she is leaving you behind:
trading you for mental illness and worse people
and harder drugs, opening August." A timeless August.
The words make you afraid again,
afraid like rehab and the psych ward made you,
regret's opening a hollow in your stomach like I do
once or twice a week when I blow you off like this,
like your body threatens to fold from the inside
as the yellow sign disappears and the unfinished store
is blocked by an apartment complex that wasn't here when you were born.
The change is unbearable, I am unbearable,
it's all unbearable. You turn the radio up to distract yourself.
A wolf howls and the voice of a big-city country boy
threaded with static like the scant grey
in a twenty-eight-year-old's hair comes through the speakers.
With a reassuring, warm tone, he says "Up next:
a country song you've heard a million times
whose rhythm and verse feels like being greeted
by your lover at home." And the music plays
but you find little comfort in its embrace;
it's stiff and artificial as you drive past the grocery store
whose foundations are roots to the town,
you spent so many evenings milling about the parking lot
as a child with all of your friends
who have since moved on. Your brakes squeal a little
as the car grinds to a halt at a stoplight;
the only one for miles, standing alone and proud.
You look out the window back to that shopping center,
the lights in the signage bleed at the edges
as the day starts to go with the sun.
The line at the Taco Bell there is just as long as it was
the first day it opened, when you skipped class with me
in a white truck with pockmark rust.
You get a text, your phone lights up with the word "Sorry!"
And you know that this is never going to happen.
This is never going to work out, I have left
these people and this place behind,
this home for the both of us,
this town that changed as you did in adolescence
as you passed eighteen and it was given
its second grocery store, its second
stoplight, an apartment complex, dispensaries.
Because even our sad hometown is crying out in fear
as the children it raised disappear. It clings
to you with all of its messages sent in public confidence,
it is afraid of abandonment, it is afraid of being lost
as it changes beyond recognition and the heart of it dies
and the light turns green.
You press down on the gas.
The car lurches forward and you drive straight out of town,
you don't look back, but if you did you could see
your hometown reaching an arm out from behind
as it sings along to that country song on the radio
with tears in its eyes, and I'm sorry. I am.