stay off the back roads


there’s always rat snakes in the tobacco field she says and rolls down the window
doesn’t this car have a lighter    well, don’t that beat all
she starts to hum one of the songs we used to sing in church

I remember sneaking out of youth group     matches and malboro reds
bought with stolen collection-plate money
hiding behind that stone bible     in the cemetery

no one ever smelled smoke on the preacher’s kid
and if they did     they weren’t telling

the sun shines too bright through empty branches    it hurts the eyes
breaks into pieces on the river    like rows of car windows in a junkyard
good day for a funeral she says    the cold hangs in the air like tombstones

you know I told him she says    I told him    then she stops talking
rolls the cigarette between her fingers
she looks at the houses flying past like abandoned railcars

boards on the doors    gaping windows    sad sagging roofs and she sighs
I really believed him this time    I honest-to-god thought he quit
I forgot about the snakes    shiny black and thick as a tire

yeah    she says    there’s always snakes


cats with thumbs — february 2010



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