Your paperback of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
was ruined when it sank into the motel bathtub,
fat and seeping when you plucked it back. Outside,
there were old people screaming for the bus
or playing games of chance with bits of bones
they’d scooped from the roadkill by the curb.
You were waiting for darkness. So were they.
The bus never came. You suspected
there was no bus. On dried-up stationery,
you drew a picture of a square
with knobby wheels and a few windows.
Stick people stared out them, at the ceaseless road.
At you, you thought. You drew a fat mark
through them, canceling whatever
they had hoped for, and tied it to the soggy book.
You threw it out the motel door,
praying they’d shut up or scatter.
Or go to sleep. No one noticed
and all night long the hiss of oxygen tanks
and the electric clack of wheelchairs
and the chirping alarms of all the world’s congestive failures
were at your door. You missed
the book you’d lifted from a library
in the next town over. Why
you had picked it made no sense.
Everything was pitiable. Above the bed
the room’s sallow light hummed
and wouldn’t shut off. The mattress felt like straw.
You figured it would not be long
before you found work again
in a mine or as a museum docent.
Whatever that meant. Docent. You liked the word
like the matches you kept
in your pocket like identification.
There was more to your story,
you always said if you were asked.
You rarely were.