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The Marquee Is Empty at the Big Rig Saloon

Editor’s Note: This poem by Allison Pitinii Davis is being presented as part of our special focus on poetry during #PoetryMonth in April. Please read our introduction to the series.

marquee


which used to be called Clover Junction All the turnover—my friend in Vilnius, her dad still absently says, “Turn right Lenin” and she says this is how people get lost. In the thick of names. back when the bar was the Clover it was a diner: the Motel Clerk smoked his morning cigar in a sunlit booth. Now everyone’s calling out keno numbers and well drinks except my father who’s drunk on half a Coors and saying, “If the mother didn’t run after her children into the fire, the guard would say, ‘What kind of mother are you!’ and push her in.” The marquee says nothing. The band covers “Can’t you see what that woman’s been doing to me?” so he switches from 17 Day in Treblinka to the time he watched the Marshall Tucker band get stoned downtown. My mother pretend-spits over her shoulder to rid the world of genocide and hash. I was raised in a utopia above her shoulder. My father grew up at the trucking motel next door. This afternoon, he paced the office and stared at the empty sign. I said,” Don’t worry, they’ll make it.” He answered, “How do people watch their children burn?” Above the circle of truckers at the bar, there’s an old motel sign: OPEN 24 HOURS WE NEVER SLEEP framed by flat screens showing the CIA torture release, showing highlights from the game: players rubbing their fingers in Johnny Football’s face. Outside, semi-trucks thunder down the off-ramp. The motel sign looms high up in the weather. The sky fights for every inch it keeps empty. The owner drops off the bill, says it’s much too slow for a Friday. My father jumps out of his chair, points to the empty sign and says, “Goddamnit, you say you’re open or you shut up.”
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Poem will appear in “Line Study of a Motel Clerk” published by Baobab Press. Used with permission from the publisher.

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