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Craig Verlin Mar 9
I remember we took a walk most days that
allowed it. In step down the sidewalks,
we might have laughed at something
or another that I had said,
there was plenty of laughter
to go around then—and plenty of sidewalks.
They stretched around the river and
laced up the streets past the gym
where we met towards the house
that became our home.
Walking back, you might have smiled
or playfully slapped away my hand
from the small of your back before
leaning in to kiss my cheek.

Affection was neither of our strong suits
but it was a suit you wore better
than I did.

I remember you wore a black coat on our
first date and shrugged
out of it as we walked up to
the restaurant—baring a lone shoulder
and my first glimpse into your past.
I held the door and you rearranged
your hair, hiding it again.

I remember the scar was barely noticeable then,
me just a stranger and concerned
with so many other things.
How would the food taste?
How would the service be?
Would you like me enough to walk
those sidewalks home for another drink?

It was not until later that I would
find out what a burden that
small slip of flesh truly was.

I remember you had a slight fear of those
sidewalk cellar doors,
just enough to step around them each time
with a bit of a blush on your cheek
as if it were something to be ashamed of.

How strange, these things you remember.

This place to me now is not a city,
but an old ruin full and full of sidewalks
and, like a child with imagined lava,
I fear to touch them for the burn
of what remembrance they might bring.
Craig Verlin Nov 2021
Tied to the world
by the hands of grocery clerks,
by the blue aprons of baristas
and the fresh smells of cut bagels
in morning market stalls.
Tied to the world
by parked cars in parallel lines,
construction cranes climbing
back to life.

The moorings of a vast
and darkening ocean,
an anchor tied with twine
and small impersonal smiles
of welcome.

Tied to the world
by tall vines of ivy like scoliosis spines
rooting themselves upward in
the chipped bricks of
abandoned factory buildings.
Tied to the world by
small strings to hold us against ourselves,
small cracks in sidewalk pavements
where grass might one day grow again.

The earth spins at
a bearable speed when
the morning peeks through
curtained townhouse windows
on a quiet city block and the
birds make just enough
noise to be beautiful.
Craig Verlin Jul 2021
Where there was once
noisy trips to the beach—to sneak away
with each other in the surf and plant
kisses on the tops of each other's ears
—there is now only silence.

Where there was once
loud lines of poetry brought to life
in the screams of youth—in anger
and in sadness and in love
—there is now only silence.

Where there was once
dance floors and dresses—
the music of a million lovers
clasping hands and setting their
feet in steps against one other
—there is now…

The inventory is unpacked
and counted up from each of those
long hours I have carried since
those pale blue cottages on the beach,
since the barroom poetry readings
and the holiday dances.
The shell no longer sings the ocean.
The sounds that filled the vessel
have all but gone away
from us now.
Craig Verlin Jul 2021
Just turned nineteen, we sat
along the bottom of the bunk bed—
holding hands and nothing else
—reading from the big compilation
of Bukowski poems that I kept
folded up and tucked in a pocket
of my backpack as an anchor
through those early years.

The cottage was empty and quiet
except the circling ache of the ceiling fan.
Only blocks from the northern shore,
the others had gone to lay blankets
in the sand—even in a mid-spring chill,
with sweaters on—to drink cheap white wine.

You told me you enjoyed Bukowski
because he gave voice to a self that you
had never known you had.
A self you wanted to explore and understand.
You—with your suburban, two-car
garage upbringing—had never smoked
a cigarette until we met.

In the million hours since that hour
we sat and took turns yelling out
lines of “Bluebird” to get a better feel
for the words as they took shape
in our mouths, there have been more cigarettes.

There have been more drugs that left our
outlines in sweat stains on the mattress.
There have been more broken glasses,
shards in-between our toes, and
mistake tattoos penned in our skin.
There have been more falling-outs and car crashes
and fathers with voiced disapprovals.
There have been more curses and
hospital visits and apology letters
turned to kindling or tucked in drawers
to be left behind.

There have been fewer poems.
Craig Verlin Jul 2021
She put out the cigarette
in the soft part of my leg,
twisting, folding, pressing
ash to puckered skin.
Her eyes never left mine—not for a
moment—no one said a word.
The hairs stood on their ends.
The hands clenched in their fists.
The cigarette ground from
flame into ash into skin
and the endless smoke
curled up around us,
bodies open and waiting
for a feeling that would not come.
Craig Verlin Jun 2021
Back then for awhile,
the fire-escapes were
balconies instead of
warning signs.
We would share a couple of
cigarettes so you could shed the
guilt of smoking them alone.
Cars would yell past at timed intervals,
a welcome reminder that there
is always some place else.

We never touched one another.
It would not have been proper—
though whether it would have
been right is now lost to us.
We stood on the balcony.
Staring over moonlit traffic lines,
spaced a breath apart,
wondering where it all went.
Cigarette ash blew off into the air
and we were old enough to feel
nostalgic for the first time.

Back then, for awhile,
the fire-escapes were
balconies instead of
warning signs.
Convenience store lights
glittering on the road and
the landlord ready to kick
you out—for good, this time.
You were getting married and
said the traffic lights were
giving you mixed signals
to stay, then go, then stay again.
Cigarette ash blew off into the air
and we were in love enough to talk
of maybe’s and might-have-been’s.
The light flickered green and the
traffic sped off to some place else
and we sat sharing cigarettes,
close, but not quite touching.
Craig Verlin Jun 2021
Tall, white birch trees,
tight-rolled cigarettes leave
tobacco stains to drop dotted
lines across the evening pavement.

The raindrops outpace the autumn leaves
in long, cold daggers of not-quite-snow
that rip the bandage off the topsoil and loam,
that beat the earth into its seasonal death.
The weather is cold and the world is dying,
the moth has made its home
beneath the lampshade.
‘It is enough to get by,’ someone shouts
into their unhappiness, ‘It must be enough.’

Another leaf falls, lies flat.

Tall, white birch trees,
pale and blistered fingers
reaching for leaves that fall
away from them again
each year.
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