A Flare Up by Caryn Drexl
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The number four
“They call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”
— George Carlin
In America, dreams come soaked in gasoline.
The number four is meaningless unless it’s your child’s age,
the number of part-time jobs you work to afford the rent,
the number of hours you sleep each day, split between shifts—
a different kind of insomnia, where a car seat is a mattress
and a parking lot is a bedroom in the mouth of a mausoleum.
They suspect no foul play, just the bullying of a wage
that’s become so commonplace, it barely registers a blink.
Just put another candle in the window,
just mutter another Hail Mary, mother of the graceless,
while so many flames flicker in the eyes of the streets,
the nights don’t feel like nights anymore.
I imagine my mother, working two jobs to keep the lights on,
to keep her two children from sleeping on empty stomachs,
becoming a phantom in her own home.
I imagine her siphoning her dreams into that red plastic jug,
and using them to scrub the floor, to wash the sheets,
her hands like matchsticks, cradling the future.
I can’t see the Northern Lights
Here, there’s the cricket crescendo of dusk,
night like an opaque glass between
my heart and the stars, really just smog
and street lamps that buzz more than the whiskey
in my guts. Isn’t it romantic how the sun
tries to kill us like some drunk vagrant
swinging his fists in the air,
but his rage is just another form of beauty,
another form of light
that dances in and out of existence,
waves like music manifested
as luminescent sheets in the sky,
something so breathtaking
it would take a lifetime to describe
just that moment, that moment anchoring you
to now, with an unseen battleship
large as the moon, trying to pull
you over the horizon. That’s what I imagine
it to be like, while I sit sipping my drink,
hoping no one breaks into my house
when I sleep and dream of driving North,
my internal compass in constant spin.