Let me say now, it was deserted and I was only partway drunk.
He was a down-on-his-luck lunatic,
standing there on the offramp at midnight.
We were just outside a town I’d never understand,
my wife somewhere inside it,
cleaning out the chicken coop of her head,
rearranging the crossed wires of her failing intuition.
For once, I was able to look at a man like that
and understand the prospect of having nowhere to go
but a burning need to get there.
I killed the engine.
Got a beer? he asked
as I opened the car door.
No, but I got a car, I said.
He appraised the dark heap that had urged me
toward every stupid turn I’d spent the years taking.
It’s ugly, he said, noting a windshield crack
so fierce it made seeing out nearly impossible.
Yeah, but it’s yours, I said.
He looked at me with the kind of lottery-ticket look
you see on TV, when winning feels more wrong than losing.
Let me say now, standing there
watching my own taillights bob off into the dark
was the beautiful, cursed sensation I’d been aiming for all day.
Then I was a puzzle piece in the California night,
nothing in my hand but a cigarette,
nothing to do but wait for somebody to come along
and tell me what a fool I’d spent my life being.