5-13-2020

Jeffrey Alfier

 

New Iberia

Down Sugar Mill Road

 

August, the air unmoving,

thick as a lover’s held breath.

Afternoons stretch out forever.

 

Pelicans and herons

drag languid shadows

over the backs of cottonmouths

 

as graveyard crows wrestle

windblown trash

brushing a white crypt.

 

I’m lost in a fix of cut-rate gin.

The late sun bursts in the final pane

of a dead paper mill.

 

A woman opens a screen door,

steps inside a house. The light

above her drifts through a vacant field.

Camden Road, South of Santee

 

Hitchhiking all day with no luck, I took sleep

by a rusted pickup in the yard of a darkened house

overgrown with trumpet vines

and dusk, a fifth of Four Roses in my pocket.

 

Traffic that refused my thumb still dinned my ears.

My hat clung to my temples, my overcoat

to sandy earth and switchgrass.

I stunk as if I’d herded cattle to slaughter pens.

 

Wind came on quietly. Like the stranger

who quickened from the house in bare feet.

She tore her gaze away from mine,

tried not to step where the ground hurts.

 

West of Rolling Fork

       Off Mississippi Highway 14

 

Late day, and the foreman

cuts us loose. Wind stiffens,

 

cools graders and backhoes

we leave behind at the bayou cutoff.

 

I flee to a bar beneath

a falling winter sun.

 

Neon shivers like candleflame.

Rare thin snow whispers its way

 

to the rooftop. Tobacco

smoke and the musk

 

of damp bodies crowd

the wind-shot doorway.

 

On a corner stool

I seek my solitude,

 

hope my face draws a blank

from all, a story unread.

 

Shots of rye rattle my skull

like dice in a gambler’s cup.

 

Through the window,

I fix on the parking lot,

 

watch headlights

shed the darkness.

 

One drinker, as wordless as I,

slips away without a ride.

 

She takes foot down an unlit road.

-from Gone This Long, Mainstreet Rag (2019)

JEFFREY ALFIER won the 2014 Kithara Book Prize for his poetry collection, Idyll for a Vanishing River. He is also author of The Wolf Yearling, The Storm Petrel, and The Red Stag at Carrbridge (forthcoming). Recent publication credits include Southern Poetry Review, Hotel Amerika, and Poetry Ireland Review. He has a master’s degree in Humanities, but he doesn’t do shit with it.