Joshua Martin sheds light on the casual yet essentials ways by which men support each other.
Although too small to see over the bar rail, I could smell
the stale beer wafting over lacquered wood, could
sense the cue ball’s angle before the break in the adjoining
room of my father’s favorite bar in Madison, Mississippi. Above us,
cigarette smoke culminated in a phosphorus cloud as if directed
by a holy man proclaiming rain. Without being told, I knew the place
was sacred, full of ghosts. There was a special rhythm in the
way the men would position their stools like chess pieces,
a cadence in the clanking of beer glasses. Much later in
graduate school, I read about the sociological need
I found odd until thinking of the times I shuffled
to the mailbox for my father’s mail I knew wouldn’t arrive,
or the drives I’ve taken alone under elm wood silhouetted by moonlight,
and how in the killing fields of a place muddled by a plethora
of unopened letters or on the 50-yard line of an impending breakup
the brain lacerates that which it needs most, the intimate
encounter between mound builders, men entombing their own
grief like the indigenous peoples of Natchez
the way the man to my father’s left whose name I never knew
would give me 25 cents for the pool table while they
bespoke loss: my father his wife, that man
his four sons, both downing bottom-shelf communion wine,
both waiting for the twanged tune-up of a backroom guitar
to tell them it was time to go home.
Read more of Joshua Martin’s poetry.
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Photo by Nicolas Alejandro /Flickr