Another Life by Pamela Hirschler

It’s just a small thing, really.  A boy—
almost a man—delivers newspapers, 
collects what is owed to him, brings 
the change home in a zippered pouch, 
and I help count the change, pull out 
the silver—dimes that are worth more 
than a dime. But this time, he passes
the old house propped up on a steep hill
where a woman smokes on the porch. 
The musk-sweet smell reaches out 
and she gives him a toke, and he likes it, 
still manages to graduate, joins the military 
so daddy can’t tell him what to do.  
Some people are so smart, their brains 
don’t have room for any sense, and he ends up 
on a big boat near Vietnam—I don’t know the name, 
that’s usually important—but he tries to forget 
the faceless people on the other end of the rockets 
they send over there and there are lots of pills
that squeeze out the faces and make him forget
a lot of things for a while and he sees the world:
buys a bicycle in the Philippines, a new stereo
in Hawaii, puts the money he has left in a ticket
for a plane ride to Colorado, rides the new bicycle
the rest of the way, and daddy calls all the people 
he knows until a general discharge arrives in the mail
and the boy who is now a man stays home for a while,
hangs out down at the river bottom with some guys 
who are lost just like him, takes a couple of classes 
at the community college, leaves his stash in plain
sight, once in an open glovebox in the garage, another time, 
just a small thing, a little sister, fooling around,
takes his coat off the hook just to try it on, twirls,
puts her hands in the pockets, pulls out a plastic bag.
I remember the fighting, but not what happened to the bag,
and then one day he just drives until the car breaks down 
and he leaves it at the gas station, and nobody knows 
where he is but him for years, and he weaves in and out
of our lives, stays clean when he’s out of money, doesn’t
mind sleeping in parks and empty buildings and old cars
because nobody tells him what to do, until later when
he gets old and the cold aches in his bones,
like mother’s heart when she doesn’t know where he is,
but what is important is that he does what he wants. 
I help a little, find him a couple of hotel rooms, a few apartments, 
buy some groceries, a chair, a single bed, give him worn-out sheets
from the linen closet, but it’s not enough and too much,
not enough at all in the end—it’s both yesterday and a lifetime ago.

Pamela Hirschlers poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently in Riparian (Dos Madres Press), Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: The Journal, and The Heartland Review. Her work was included in the 2018-2019 Women of Appalachia Project, and her first poetry chapbook, What Lies Beneath, was published in 2019 by Finishing Line Press. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Drew University. Pamela lives with her husband in Frankfort, Kentucky. Find her on Twitter @phirschler1

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