The morning was cold and fat with leftover
Chinese food plastic forked on a bus stop bench
while a cat hissed at another cat for passing by.
It was the sun who staggered up the alley
between gray walls to let a brown bird slip
through the gray no one would call a sky and land
in a busted-ass tree that forgot the weight of leaves
as the first drops of rain fell to form exhaust puddles.
I watched the bird perched there on a janky branch
as I scooped the last bits of crusty brown rice
and goopy-sauced beef into my mouth until
the bird flew off in a way I could never understand
and there was nothing left to do but drop
the white flap-top box into the black metal garbage can
and begin the long drizzly walk home, past
the last few high-rises quiet for the weekend,
the parking lots and weed lots, the underpass where tin
can fires warm homeless dreams and bold youth
leave their names on tall walls holding up busy streets
with no idea of what’s underneath, the renovated mills
and the worn out millhouses, the slick path where
fearless lovers and shitfaced vagrants sneak
to disappear in a tangle of weeds and malt liquor bottles
and silence and muddy banks and dark privacy,
to where the sidewalk finally becomes bridge.
It has been too long to remember the first time,
but somewhere along the years I picked up a habit
of stopping halfway across the bridge to pull
a candy bar I saved for the moment from my pocket,
tear open the wrapper, bite off a mouthful, enjoy
the shame of chocolate and toffee on a drunk morning,
and stare down into brown water tumbling over
shallow rapids, thick with the dirt of centuries
of snapped lines and Styrofoam and sunken canoes,
runoff from the chicken plant, the cemetery.
A length of pine trunk and the two rocks it wedged
between before I ever passed through catch everything
catchable in the ambling current, flecks of scale and shit,
twigs and pebbles and leaves, plastic grocery bags and
frayed cigarette butts, grains loosed from stones and bones,
to hold it all together, gather it all up to make it part of
themselves, to grow into something bigger until there is
an island of the wasted and the forgotten left behind
in the middle of everything, piling up all over itself
every moment, waiting for it all to take root and settle in
so the otters and great blue herons may rest there one day.
I do not stop to remember, to reminisce, to grow
nostalgic. I stop for the forgetting, to let the days slip
from me in that time between then and now, that place
lost here and there, in the cool warmth of early morning
as the sun finishes rising over the dawn-misted water
that passes under me and disappears forever downstream.
I stay only long enough to finish what I brought
with me, swallow down the last bite, take the empty
wrapper and fold it neat as a letter from a dead
lover, tuck it in my pocket before moving on.
From a Window in the Humanities Office Building
The trees along College Street are green fists punched
through the concrete foundation of the campus.
The rooftop of the Colloquium Café is flat white,
as lonely and alien as arctic plains and lunar seascapes.
Students are drinking iced coffee and eating cold sandwiches
at wrought iron tables under blue canvas umbrellas.
Your building is across the brick courtyard,
but your office does not have a window.
Still I am standing here again,
my thoughts drawn in your direction,
as I imagine that somehow you will be there
behind a new window built just for us, waving back
to me with the selfishly joyous smile of a child
who sees a friend enter the waiting room.
As a gesture of compromise, they took
the flag from atop the dented copper dome
and planted it where the grounds meet
Main Street but would not surrender it.
That flag’s post reaches seven generations
deep into hard-packed earth, so the sound
of wind whipping red, white, and blue
cloth echoes through downtown
and sunlight turns to shadow as it bleeds
through faded stars and graying memories.
Passersby shake their heads
or salute with small nods,
take photos for skeptical friends back home,
simply ignore it, or chuckle and ask
Is this it?
Is this what it was all about?
Darien Cavanaugh received his MFA from the University of South Carolina. His work has been published or is forthcoming in The Dos Passos Review, Memoir (and), The Minnetonka Review, The Blue Collar Review, Struggle, Pank, The James Dickey Newsletter, Megaera, The Pickwick Press, Gertrude, I-70 Review, Kakalak, and The San Pedro River Review. He lives in Columbia and works at The Whig.