Al Maginnes Click to

Al Maginnes is the author of seven collections of poetry, most recently The Next Place (Iris Press). New or recent poems appear in North American Review, Natural Bridge, and San Pedro River Review. He is the music editor of the online journal Connotation Press and a member of Liberty Circus, a music and spoken word collective dedicated to raising funds for social justice. Al lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and teaches at Wake Technical Community College.

We are driving through our laments for
what this town has become, almost lost though we turn

routes so familiar I hardly need to steer. The clubs gutted
to build shops and chain restaurants, the all-night diner

where I once drank coffee and watched the world shrink into light
a condo now, the bowling alley beside campus a Target

where students can buy gym shorts and toilet paper, all these lead
to a recital of what stood in  each non-existent building

and remade space. Without speaking, we are steering out of town,
along a two-lane road still robed in shade, trees pressed

close to the road’s blunt shoulder, lower limbs bend groundward
like animals come to drink at an oasis. Then

the road widens and light splashes the asphalt, the wall of trees
broken to reveal a cut clear, still littered with tree trunks

lying askew, broken limbs dangling, casualties of the ongoing battle
between space and commerce. And beyond, houses, all twinned

in their sameness. I slow the car. No evidence anyone lives here.
No one mowing or pulling weeds from beds uniformly mulched

in pine bark. No kids shooting baskets or riding bikes. My brother and
his ex- dwelled for a while on a similar street. I had to count

doors to find their place. The fourth one on the left. Or maybe
the sixth. When I moved here, this road was barely paved, a path

through trees, its few houses hidden by pin oak and pines. A good place
to lead an invisible life. Now, slashes of orange paint color

the ground, sign that this road is due to be widened, repaved. A decade ago,
when our daughter would only nap in the car, I would

drive this road and a maze of others, circling the satellite towns of
the county before the bosses began building glass towers

that shine like new needles, even at might. Ground is broken, then come
carpenters, masons, crane operators, craftsmen who will never

walk the rich carpets that will fill halls that exist only on paper now
or “take a meeting” around tables as big as a front porch.

Then come computer jocks, software manipulators with their needs for
Thai food, bike lanes, fair trade coffee. Now restaurants can

charge eighteen bucks for an appetizer. The bar where I got drunk for
the last time is a lot loaded with earth movers now. Past the colony

of still-life houses, we see a mailbox, its top half crowned by the dome
of a skull, the bottom adorned by jawbone, so opening the mailbox

offers the illusion of a skull yawning for reasons, both good and evil.
In the side yard, a windmill, not built of angle iron, curved blades

dicing the wind, but something from a book a child reads, built of wood,
its tiny windows leaded into diamond shapes. I’d call it

life-sized, but how many in recent years have seen such a thing?
Let’s say it was large enough for its job. Which, right now, is

pulling our attention from the road as we slow and then pull over,
the car slanted on a shallow ditch bank, our bodies still as the street

we just passed. No matter how motionless our bones, time continues
its slow walk forward, stubborn as a morning runner who knows

the limits of his aging legs but keeps his dogged pace. Time will roll over
all our wishes for the past to hold. We need to breathe deeply enough

to appreciate the allotment of days we treat like the abandoned houses
of our youth, places to be occupied, then destroyed. Denied

a last drink, I stood outside the loud bar, emptied, feeling the start that would
change. And keep changing. If this was a poem, if I was a wiser man,

I’d find some explanation for what it all means, lessons from a self-created
Virgil or just myself in the guise of a man almost whole. But

I’m just a man sitting beside his wife, staring at something I’ll never have
the patience or skill to make. Maybe once I would have bent close enough

to draw a brush over each plane of wood, coloring each ne to contrast
its neighbors, each an irreplaceable part of the whole. The lie bosses tell

workers until they falter. But the windmill, with its ability to snare the eye
echoes a more cautious time, when painting a structure or sanding

a piece of wood correctly meant something. While we stare, the eyes in the skull
flash red, little hazard lights, a caution that someone is watching,

pulling us from what thickens in the capsule of our car: how easily we have
dreamed ourselves into this place, a paradise artificial

as the new structures we curse but can’t stop from coming. We drive away,
accelerating back into our lives, returning to our porch where we see

cranes above the trees, busy at the rebuilding there is no end of.