“You Cannot Turn"
the key. it is in the ignition, and your fingers tense around its pebbled casing. but you cannot turn it; you cannot move. you have stalled at a downtown intersection, late at night, in a downpour so hard the wipers can't keep up; they flail back and forth, as if waving in surrender. ahead of you, the traffic light moves through its stations: green to amber, amber to red, then back to green again. you grip the key tighter, its rough grain pressing into your skin. but you do not move. instead, you think of her. in the rear-view mirror, two blocks back, is the star-blue neon of the bar where it all began. you picture her as she was, sitting alone in a sleeveless black top: her hair dark and curly, wild as smoke; her tattoo, a trail of purple hearts, bursting from one shoulder; her moss-green eyes lost in thought, until they turned and met yours head on.
small talk she turns all the loose change heads up
shoulder to shoulder sound of ice settling in her glass
last call her perfume and the stars lead you home
and you picture the scars, the ones you found that first night in bed—on her thighs, her ribs, the one bent like a nail on the small of her back. when you asked, her eyelids snapped shut, quick as a lizard's.
in the deepest corner of the bedroom her birthmark
soon you were spending all your free time together. you found that she too loved those long, almost endless drives into the countryside, and that became your nightly ritual—emerging from the city streets onto the rural routes beyond, looping for hours under the stars, among acres of pine, past sloping fields and shining ponds. and at the end of every trip, returning to the bar where you had first met: the loop closed, the circuit complete. she always ordered bourbon—"because it burns," she'd say—and you matched her drink for drink.
one more the way twilight enters the barroom mirror
night after night, you drank and talked and toasted, always pushing the limits of last call. and each night, after closing, you took one last drive into the countryside, past all the familiar landmarks—the 7-Eleven, the lumberyard, the telephone pole with its "Jesus Saves" signboard—until you were surrounded by trees and fields. you would take her hand and go faster, pushing against the limits of the white lines, and she would place her free hand on top of yours, as together you sped through the darkness. you remember it so clearly: the wind, the stars, her touch, all flowing, flowing—until that one night when, in a single missed turn, all the lines were crossed and her hand slipped free.
windshield through a jagged hole, night rushes in
on your tongue the taste of iron and her name
after the funeral all the ceiling cracks lead nowhere
the traffic light burns red, as the rain falls—the night pouring into itself, over and over. ahead of you the intersection lies swollen with water. behind, a car pulls into view, its headlights filling your mirror. the traffic light turns green. the rain cascades along your roof, your windshield, the hood, sounding as if you were in the middle of a great river. still, you do not move, and the headlights are still there: cold, insistent—then flashing steadily. someone is getting out from the driver's side of the car, is walking toward you, is tapping on your window. "sir?" you shake your head. turn the key, you tell yourself. "sir, are you all right?" you are going to drive into the countryside, out into the pines. "sir, please look at me." you see her hair, her eyes, that trail of hearts. "look at me please, sir." you cannot turn