Front Matter

Armadillo.jpg

Issue 47.2: WINTER 2018

Panama City Beach by Tim DeJong

 

In the hotel lobby in La Grange, Kentucky

the front desk clerk stuffs his handgun

down the back of his pants,

checks us out of our room

and wishes us good morning.

We are driving down

to Panama City Beach

to watch the waves become horizon,

though secretly I wish

we were visiting Key West,

froth of islands at the mouth of the gulf

where Bishop composed and Hemingway

drank and fought, where Wallace Stevens

stared out at the water until he forgot

about whatever insurance claims

needed filing in Hartford.

I like to imagine them tracing

the clouds with their eyes

all the way down to the water,

revising phrases in their heads.

 

In the radiant heat

shreds of tire accumulate

like black lint on the interstate.

Along the roadside

dead armadillos lie

on their backs like large insects,

legs in the windless air.

 

In Luverne, Alabama, a woman

crosses the intersection on a riding mower.

Seniors scratch lottery tickets

at folding tables in the gas station.

The road we travel on

was named after a war

fought against an emotion.

Perhaps as long as it is felt

we have not won.

They stopped jailing poets

a long time ago. Even so,

the wars that most need fighting

use words as weapons—

our brief journeys enumerated.

I want to visit Key West

and order a drink on the beach,

near the ocean that pins us

to these sunny coasts

and search for a word to match

the color of the light,

to match the hope we share

by virtue of existing

for what happens

and for what does not happen

to take a recognizable shape, like staring

at a pattern in the clouds until

there are no clouds, only pattern.

 

In the meantime let the record state

that in Panama City Beach

as the afternoon wore late

the filtered sunlight streamed down

and turned the white

seashells to silver dollars,

a rich man’s pocket

emptied centuries ago,

to shards of chain mail,

the beach a memory of some bloody battle

whose history the obdurate waves

erase and erase and rewrite.

Where the water meets the land

and all conversations begin to end

I joined the dissipating throng

as tourists wrapped in sarongs

folded up their chairs

and stumbled in threes and in pairs

up the gentle sand

back into the good night.