Poem: Kickstart

You dip your hand in the pomade can
Spread it around in your palm to warm it up
Stare down your reflection, that bastard right there
Run your hands or a comb through your graying hair

You try not to scratch that healing tattoo
The one with her name and the text “RIP”
Grimace, sneer, exhale and deal
Busy your fingers with less damaging tasks

Pull on your shoes, and lace them tightly
Remind yourself, again, that you’re due for a polish
Cast off your care with a raised upper lip
Knock your heels together; make your feet go tock-tock

Kick-start that bike on the second or third try
Twist the throttle for good measure, to keep it alive
Flash your annoyance at the scratches in the chrome
Get on; insert headphones; brain bucket; roll out

You zigzag through traffic in the late afternoon
Nearby stereos go ting-ting, doom-doom
Concentrate on the hazards, on the roadway ahead
Those left behind are out of your hands

Park on the sidewalk; then kill the motor
Take off your helmet, and enter the bar
Wince as the stale air hits your nose
Switch the neon “open” sign on

Pull the plastic wrap off the bottles, and start the CD spinning
Listen to those songs and sounds for the millionth time
Sigh audibly; mutter along with Hank Williams
Bury, bury yourself in routine

Take the top off the tub of bar mix and pretzels
Handful at a time, enjoy your first meal
Choke back the memories as you chew crunchy carbohydrate
Try not to think about the last two weeks

It started with a diagnosis and ended so quickly
She had cancer they said, and then she was gone
When she took her last breath, you couldn’t but wonder
How long they would let you hold onto her hand

Your scream, cries and protests granted you privilege
So you stood by as they removed the machines
They cleaned her and wrapped her, in a painstaking manner
Transferred her body to a gurney, and took her away once more

The funeral went by like a headlight at nighttime
Flashed before your eyes, burning the moment into time
You sat in the front and tried to comfort her mother
But nobody was there to take care of you

Yesterday the barrel made it almost to your mouth
It went click-clack as you wracked in a round
You closed your eyes as your finger found the trigger
Anxious just to see her again

Beads of sweat pushed through your pores
You held your breath as you prepared for departure
Stalling when your teeth first touched metal
The front door creaked, and only the moment was killed

For whatever reason, you unloaded the thing
Stuck it back in the office’s top left desk drawer
Turned, walked out to greet the morning’s first customer
Went through the motions for another long day

Today you pledged to stay out of the office
The shot glass goes clink-clink when the bourbon bottle kisses its lip
A regular, Ronnie, walks in from the garish daylight
“Cheers” he exclaims, as you throw it back

Every Tuesday, like clockwork, he comes in alone
Paper in hand; he then sits and reads
You keep his pints coming, slow though they go
Few words are spoken, but you’re friends just the same

In spring of last year, Ronnie’s mate died of cancer
A man named Jerry, or so you’ve been told
Ronnie may be a homo, but it really doesn’t matter
The sadness in his eyes transcends such distinctions

You throw back another shot and change out the CD
Hank Williams becomes Costello, the only Elvis you know
“Oliver’s Army” goes da da dun dun
You go to pour your sorrow, version three-point-oh

Ronnie hasn’t budged since he came in and sat down
Other than to turn a page, or to take a sip
Nothing but surprise when his hand reaches to stop you
Even more when he starts to speak

Ronnie’s hand meets yours and you put down the bottle
He looks up and searches your mind with his eyes
He clears his throat then tells you his wisdom
“Don’t do what I did, or it’ll never go away.”

At the end of the night it’s lights out and lock up
Kick-start that beast until it moans to life
Bump down the curb and start the short ride home
Freeway speed on city streets; caution to the wind

Tomorrow you’ll do the same thing as today
Maybe fewer drinks; heeding Ronnie’s somber advice
But you’re not convinced it’s the booze that’s the reason
That doom in your chest won’t ever subside

Lay your head down on the pillow after a long shower
The scalding hot water spat down on your skin
You close your eyes, but they might as well be open
What follows will not be rest, and most assuredly not your dreams

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