Keyrings: Elegy


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In the garage there’s a milk crate
collecting dust, among other things:
a floor mat, still dirty
the cassette adapter
a rusted-out set of jumper cables
half a scraped-off bumper sticker
the detritus of a glove box
an old napkin, probably
and a keyring with no keys on it

All the things I didn’t want to keep
but couldn’t let go
That would have been thrown away
at the wrecking yard
When I signed the forms in triplicate.

Seventeen: the radio up, the windows down
eating my own hair and the miles
between my house and his

Twenty-two: the brakes out
I-405 under my wheels
the offramp sloping steeply up to bragging rights

Twenty-four: taking the keys back
“It needs the spark plugs gapped
but you can do that yourself”

I can weigh my keyring in my hand:
My house keys
An unbearable space where another key should be
Heavy as freedom
or the distance between us
Light as a human heart
at seventeen


He should have been here by now.

I’ve been waiting fifteen minutes. It’s not like Clarry to be late. Usually he’s on time, if not early, sniffing around hoping for a spare pair of tights, looking for my old boots. Army taught him that. To be on time, not the foot fetish. Fixed his teeth, taught him punctuality, made him afraid of the damn dark.

I confess, there are things in the dark to be afraid of. I’m one of them.

I check my gear again. Boots, leather, one pair, like Clarry would say. Garters, ditto, with extra ammo, rounds and mags both. Cinched down tight around my thighs until the skin wrinkles up like the bark on an old madrone. That’s under the skirt: some secrets a lady’s got to keep. Shirt, vest, jacket. Knife in my pocket, gun in the small of my back. Josiah says you’re not supposed to carry it there, but Josiah doesn’t have all this to get in the way of a gun. Hide a holster on these hips? You joking?

Long gun’s in the case on the back of my bike, where it belongs. Checked it twice. Oiled and ready, like it’s been since it was my grandpap’s gun. He used to say he got some game with it. Gran would laugh, say he still got game. She could shoot, too, my gran. Taught me like she taught my momma, Before.

Clarry’s still not here, and I’m starting to get nervous. We had a schedule. A calendar – not on paper, who’s that dumb – and a list of scores to settle. We’re down to the last one.

Tick tock, Clarry.

Girl’s got a living to make, out here.



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It’s easy to dismiss them, but don’t. It’s not all in your head.

You’ll know them when you see them, now: the ones who stand too still. Talk too long. They laugh at almost the right things. In fact, you’re probably thinking of someone right now, aren’t you.

They’re not like us.

Take this. You’ll know when to use it.

One for Sorrow


When I was nineteen

I stood in a field among crows
and I counted chimneys

two chimneys per barracks,
sixty brick partitions
one hundred and eighty ribcages pressed together
wondering where is the coal
for the two chimneys

Eighteen stalls
fifty-two horses
Three tier bunks
Four hundred souls

When I was nineteen

I stood by the railroad tracks
where they converged and ended at
Two tumble-down buildings
Four ceiling supports
no soap

a school bus full of children
wearing Israeli flags like Superman’s cape
stared at the ashes still on the ground:
Never again.

Last week

I sat at my computer
I counted the tents

Two hundred facilities
Nine hundred thousand people
Seven hundred days to wait

That’s longer
than to the next election

That’s six-and-a-half-times
as many people, on any given day

And still
no soap.


We are in transit, forever walking. Or that’s what it feels like: this airport, these moving walkways, the eternity of gates with their huddled, indifferent passengers.

A woman clutches a quart bag containing three ounces of promises.

Each of us tried to buy a ticket home.



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Your hips are a drumbeat
Chasing meter across a linen staff
the high clef of your throat
sings as sweetly as your voice

And we’re looking for the coda
finding ad infinitum
da capo or dal segno
never quite the rock and roller’s

ad lib
until fade

I meant a waltz;
you swung me around
like a fox
trotting home to its burrow

I remember this tune
or at least the countermelody
though I’ve never played it before:
half a harmony – the seventh, the minor

ad lib
until fade

Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay