4/8/81: Mobile, Alabama
Stephen Gardner

Hotel mirrors always tell the truth.
It's funny how we age. The body goes
Too fast, it seems, and yet I know I've seen
Each wrinkle and every extra ounce creep in.
And, still, the body's fine. Or mine is,
Overall at least. No stretch marks (Did I really
Want a child?), all my teeth, good eyes and ears:
The things they teach us early to expect.
But they teach more: the stuff of love and honor,
Justice, truth, big dreams. That's what goes fast,
So fast we barely recognize the loss, 
The dream, like the day I lullabyed my doll,
Princess Alexandra, promised her
Cars and mansions, chocolates and furs,
While my father drove the brand new Ford,
Straight and proud behind the wheel, with a toot
On the horn for every friend in Charlotte.
By the time we reached Savannah it was dark,
And when my mother reached to lift me out
The Princess fell, her head popping like a jar
On the gravel, my father frozen, a ghost
In the doorway of the room, the neon
Glowing red deep into his open mouth.
What did I learn that night? I still don't know.
But when we reached Ft. Myers the next day
I saw everything another way. The princess,
And the figure in the door, and the head
Exploding in the dark at Mother's feet--
Three decades gone and still they sleep with me.
It's true that I have other dreams--of storms,
Of water wild and cold, and drifting hands
Pale and fading out of reach. But most of them
Are men whose open mouths are promises
Like darkness at the threshold of a room
I've traveled years to sleep in without dreams.
I touch my fingers lightly in their palms
And gladly let them lead me toward the dark,
The neon enough light to show my way.
And when I wake up I am always here.
Originally published in The Devil's Millhopper
and This Book Is For Eva (Palanquin Press)

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