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.