What the boy heard his older sister say—
Perfect, Fallen, Falling again—
drew him to the blizzard snow.
It was purely physical. He had his first
red snow shovel. It was a tool. It needed use.
He wasn’t sure about love, but with so much
snow it wasn’t about digging out,
it was about digging a cave where
the snow piled highest along the street.
Inside the cave, he carved a bed.
And when the early morning’s first snowplow down-shifted,
blatted like a steer still lost in the storm,
turned the corner at the top of the street,
he didn’t run, he stuck by that bed,
because, as his parents always said,
You made your bed, now sleep in it.
So there he lay as the snowplow, blade down, blew by,
buried him. In love, he thought,
if he was going to die. Pinned as he was,
snow right in his face, he kissed love.
They couldn’t help twisting their tongues
deeper and deeper. But just like snow,
love abruptly stopped.
How did he know, if he was buried in a cave?
As he breathed, love opened her mouth,
showed him her glistening white teeth.
“Rotting,” she spouted, “from the inside out,”
and so exhausted by that release,
right away drifted off. Not the boy. He thought
about rotting, how close his tongue was to it.
Then love woke with a start in that collapsed cave.
No one likes to wake feeling they’ve
slept with their rotten mouth wide open
in front of someone else.
“You’re kind,” she said, “to stay.”
“What choice . . . ,” he began, but felt her weight shift,
close, as if to kiss again, but she meanly whispered,
“Who’ll save you?” Scared,
he said what he thought she needed to hear: “You will.”
“I can’t,” she snapped.
“Who, then? Who?” he asked, and then himself
began to drift, to die, he thought. “Now,” she said,
“could you be any more hidden?” What?
She was that old retired nun who moved in up the street
in summer, who all fall he said mean things to
while hidden out of sight. And now she was out,
safely walking the plowed street.
She heard him talking. She knew where he was.
“I’m going to find you,” she screamed, and with her bare hands
furiously pushed and pulled away . . . snow, he decided.
And as soon as she uncovered his face, he said, “It’s you!”
as in, The whole time you were the love I kissed.
“Isn’t that what I’m supposed to say?” she said,
as she pulled him out, and without another word
swept him up and carried him home.
On the Way to the Casinos
“We’re not junkies or killers or something.
We’re just going gambling for one day.
Can’t you just shut up and enjoy it for what it is?”
That was John. He drove. “Maybe we’re not
directly responsible,” I said, “but by. . . .”
And that was Jeff, who, bouncing around in back,
reached around the headrest, clamped both hands
over my mouth. And that’s us, just like that
coming to a stop at a major intersection, which,
years before had no stop light, just crossroads
that everyone shot through without looking. So wasn’t
gambling human nature? And beyond fun
and the question of real jobs, didn’t gambling provide
false hope or an old jolt of risk in order to feel alive
when we felt dead and helpless? What was wrong
with me? Gambling was religion. Nothing was wrong with me,
if something better was coming. If it made me believe,
then at that same intersection where we sat,
not too long before, a boy sat there in a car
with his father. A fight spilled out of that bar
before breakfast. Two drunk former farmers.
“That,” his father said, “is their job now,”
and the father’s job, though a salesman,
was to sit tight till the cops arrived,
but as soon as they arrived they let the farmers keep going,
beat and beat— because we’re entertainment.
I wasn’t that smart. No, I wasn’t.
But then the light changed,
and John, Jeff, and I continued till it was like
the casinos, so quickly upon us, sprung
out of those fallow fields.
And Jeff’s hands— tapping the seat behind my head—
jumped to roll down a window,
so he could hang half himself out
and fist pump ka-ching, ka-ching,
ka-ching in the air. And John howled, “Ka-Jesus,
just get me there.” And able to shout, I shouted,
“Blow the horn. Blow it.” And even reached across
to hold down the horn all the way in,
because I believed. Or more, now I believe
I saw the bloody farmers— distracted
by the horn and our showing— stop,
their arms come down, their look
at each other, as if What are we doing? And then
we were there.
Scott Withiam’s first book, Arson & Prophets, was published by Ashland Poetry Press. His poems have most recently appeared in Antioch Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Chattahoochee Review, Cimarron Review, Diagram, Plume, and The Literary Review. New work is forthcoming in Ascent, Notre Dame Review, and Reed Magazine. He works for a non-profit in the Boston area.