“Fourteen”, the dude says, holding a dark brown bottle
in his left hand, his hair sent into bipolar mode: gray, black, and tan
tassles, the concise look of the dispossed.
“What’s that?” I ask, my boots firmly slumbering on the worn stool beside me,
a near empty tumbler of gold, sweet bourbon in my right hand.
“She uz fourteen, fuck if I knew though,” he continues, the sneer
on his face like a line of oil on the road.
It occurs to me I don’t even know his name, or how long we’ve been bullshitting here,
the hours sneaking by, lost to someone’s idea of a joke.
“Ow bout you, bud, what did you say yer wife’s name was?” he asks, and I say
for the third or fourth time, “I didn’t, but it doesn’t matter, she’s smokin
another guy’s pole now,” and I say it as thinly as I can.
He smacks his hand across his own face and I feel nothing. He could drive a knife
into his own heart and I’d just order another.
At the back of the room, an ancient man with a half-burned face
sits alone, a lazy clutch to a black bottle,
his eyes so deep I could find magma at the bottom.
I stumble back toward him, leave the drunk rambling alone,
and plop down in a chair. “Hey friend,” I say
in my easy way, the smile that got me this shirt on my back,
“What happened to your face?” He turns toward me, the look of ten thousand years of evolution,
from caveman to Christian sinner,
and says, “My wife doused me with gasoline while I slept and
lit me on fire.” He motions to his hands, crippled, smooth things,
and stares into me, blackening my soul. “When was that friend? Just terrible,” I say.
His lips tighten somewhat as a fly buzzes his face, and he says, “When I was twenty-three.”
Later that night, as I drive toward Tulsa, that no-name drunk asleep
in the passenger seat, I think of that guy, the burned one from before,
and shiver at the last things we said. My life is shit,
I know it driving on in this car, hammered and going to hell. But that guy
he took something from me, an unknown part,
when I asked where she is now, what happened to that immolation, bitch wife.
“She’s at home making dinner, I have to get back,
she’ll be worried to death if I don’t.”
Goodnight, sweet darling, there’ll be no salvation for us,
the devil is holding his own.