“You need to ask again, Jack,” The thrasher double phrases
In the tree outside, she harps on still the more.
“I don’t deserve it. I work slow, my nose ain’t brown
I’m not as slick, sales are down.” Cindy, come around.
Laces tied, gig line set, coffee poured, laptop slung.
“Please ask again. I can’t live like this.” Out the door.

My Dad would be ashamed to live in a house
Closer to seven figures than not-quite six, thirty foot foyer,
And his wealth exceeded mine and sweet tastes of his
Wife receded those of mine. Bless her heart.
Dear old Mom, frugal soul, but still Mema
Thought her lavish. My Mercedes is a C-Class.

The gate closes me out the house, the guard greets
Fred behind me. Cindy notes his Mercedes is an S-Class.
I turn, join the antline, carrying ten thousand times—
Is that it? Maybe a hundred thousand times—my body weight
In fret. I don’t have an exoskeleton. I’m flesh,
My heart has ears and words pierce deep. Defenseless woman?
Frail? Most men die of heart disease, thousand years and running.

Steel and glass solace me less than trees.
My field of thorns. “Ask again, Jack.” We lack
No needed thing, but the need for wanted things lures.
And ask I must for fear of what awaits
Behind the new-bought wreath on my front door.
It cost six hundred I saw the florist’s bill.
“Mr. Bigg, got a minute?” I start, “No, and the answer is no.”

She stays in bed longer today, which is fine.
I prefer talking to Bobby, anyway. We horse around.
You too will not be enough for a pretty girl someday,
I almost say. He’ll know sooner than I want to think.
Beer and sports are nice comforts, though. Beer and sports.
Even now, I wish I could somehow. Somehow prevail.
Somehow impress. Be enough. Have enough. Behold the unfaked smile.

Fred’s ahead today, with that S-Class on his ass
To rub it in. Guard, gate, go already, you sonofabitch.
He turns back once through, but I move on.
His rung is higher, mine remains at the level
Where you cannot be late. Someone behind me
Never has been late and never would be.
I turn and join the antline of cars. Scott Slade checks off my name. Right on time.

Stop and go stay in line hands to yourself do your time,
Click and clack along the track you can’t go back.
Can’t go back. In time, but high above, a circling hawk
Laughs his shrieking laugh. I imagine. With up-rolled window.
I can see. He circles me. We look like prey, God,
I pray another way may I find today?
I jump out early, reenter on the other side, against the tide.

Jack is back.

My heart beats fast as through my door I spring,
To greet my boy and wife my rib my love my joy.
I’ve seen a vision, from above. Hello? Little dove?
A vision of life rethought, rekindled love, close to earth, Hon?
Growing things, chickens, three; soaring high, you and I,
Untethered from the grind and hopeless marching to ends so bleak.
Silence. Bobby’s gone, and so is Cindy. “Dear Jack,” I find the note.

Fred traded up, and Cindy too. Bobby and Jack were just standers-by
Jack went back, and out altogether, with mule and collards
Heirloom hens in two houses. Fred spoils Bobby with toys now.
Till death Jack did not part from chicks or garden tilled, at peace,
If not quite happy. Lonely. Free after a fashion, to ignore the fashion.
He ate his own food. Died. Left to Bobby a hundred acres, free and clear.

Bobby built condos there, and bought a wife with his profit.

George Henry Plaster, Lebanon, North Carolina. 2018.

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