Old Haunt

Bottles and butts in the strip mall lot
Where beneath the prairie moon
Kids in clusters eyed one another
While truck-cab doors blew tunes
In the dark, each denim jacket
And gleam of light-brown hair
Like the shock of headlights in your lane
To think that she might be there

At the checkout line, in the time it takes
To ring up a case of beer
You've learned the cashier's mom and your uncle
Went out their junior year
Through the plate glass of the booth
By the home improvement aisle
The guy who used to steal your floppy disks
Gives a sheepish smile

And above the flat and scrubby plain
The pale horizon seems to reach
To the edges of the earth:
Manhattan or Manhattan Beach
You sleep in your backseat
And for a weekend's pay
You could get to the coast in three days

A bird's been stuffed, a pumpkin gutted
And a quart of whisky drunk
When you join the boys for the yearly ritual
Of watching Tech get skunked
As you stare out at your dad's
Homemade garden-hose reel
Your cousin says, "I saw you on TV
For that genome deal"

At 2:00 a.m. when you can't sleep
You slip out the mudroom door
And drive toward the car lots
But turn south just past Route 4
You find you're stopping where you parked
When you cut Aunt Ida's grass
And watching that same door you'd hope
Would open at every pass

And above the scrubby plain
The night has cracked apart the shell of day
The stars askew as though if you stepped out
The earth would fall away
You'd drift into the silence and the cold of space
Where there's nothing to recall you to this place...