by Al Ortolani
At midnight, Jack robs the lawn mower
for extra gas, drains the tank, tilts the red can
into the garage light. Wearing
his best flannel shirt for the introduction to come—
he and Irene drive country roads
for fifty miles in the beat up Ford—
past the drag strip, the massage parlor, the state line liquor.
He stops at Chubb’s for water.
They run the garden hose into the radiator
and let it fill. Chubb waves good luck, then
more bean fields, more closed signs—
The streets in Joplin are empty, the traffic lights
down Maiden Lane—blink in syncopated yellow.
Jack pats the hood in the parking lot
at Freeman Hospital—the engine block
seeps oil, pings, smokes as it cools.
Wild geese or ducks, he can’t tell which,
honk towards Shoal Creek in low clouds.
By dawn, nothing
looks the same; the Missouri oaks
drop leaves like messages.
Only change is permanent.
Irene resting, daughter in pink.
He celebrates with pancakes
and an oil change—
daydreams about a new wood stove
and a rick of hot popping hedge.