Five Poems by Nathaniel Sverlow

the pleasure of the underdog

each Sunday morning

after a night of heavy drinking

they would walk to the café

once inside

he would claim their favorite table

by the stairs

while she stood in line

and made the order

 

afterwards

she sat down

with two coffees

handed his over

 

and they would talk

 

often pontificating

about the future

 

when he finally found a job

when she lost all that weight

put on during a previous marriage

 

then the food would come

steaming, fragrant, delicious

 

and they would eat

and talk some more

returning home later

to make love,

basking in the pleasure

of the underdog

 

down

but not out

 

years later,

they are married,

with child

 

he found a job

she lost some weight

but neither of them

are as happy

 

as on those hungover walks

to the café

sitting at their table by the stairs

talking

eating

dreaming

of what life would become

 

sadly it became this:

successful

 

and the underdog

with all his pleasure

walked down the street

 

never to return again

 

eyes

I heard it from my mother:

father is going in

for eye surgery

he has cataracts

gone blind

in the left eye

and the right eye

isn’t far behind

 

I wish I was the one

to hold the knife

to guide the laser

to repair what time had degraded

so that,

as his eyes refocused,

I’d be the first person

he’d see

 

finally

 

this 36 year-old

lump of clay

wife and child

in tow

and eyes

sharp enough

to cut glass

 

dive bar denouement

we meet at the Back Door Longue,

an old, back alley dive bar

 

she’s already here

I recognize her back tattoo:

a single eye dipped in chaos

 

it winks at me in the low light

 

she has a glass of white wine

taking it easy tonight

I order a rum and diet

and the two of us sit and talk

about life

about art

and the ever-widening gap

between the two

 

and she is beautiful

and tragic

on the verge of tears

discussing the paintings

she had made

all those years ago

now stacked

in the garage

collecting dust

 

no one is allowed in there,

she tells me,

but she’d let me in

if I came over

 

I talk about poetry,

the short story,

the novel

making way

for the child

for the cubicle

for the curmudgeon

in me,

this aging man

washed ashore

the land of dead and dying dreams

 

I show her a poem of mine

a faux pas, but I don’t care

and she begins to cry

 

I know exactly how you feel,

she says

 

in the mirror

I see the bar is now empty

but for the bartender

and ourselves

 

it’s as though time

has been corked

and set on the counter

with the good, top-shelf booze

 

we talk some more

drink some more

she slides over a glass of something

and it tastes of cigars

 

I chase it down

with some 7-Up

coughing

 

and she smiles

for the first time

tonight

 

I’m beginning to feel

good again

like there’s chance

 

she gets up

and walks to the juke box

 

poetry in motion

 

I order another round

 

check the old clock

over the mirror

 

thank god

the night’s still young

 

this easy

my brother showed up

for my son’s first birthday party

 

he had arrived with our mother

and I helped them

carry the presents inside

 

after brief introductions

to my in-laws and other

distant relatives, we

went outside and

got a couple beers

from the water cooler

 

“you know that place

I had lined up in Redding?”

he said

 

“yeah.”

 

“it’s off the table now.”

 

“why’s that?”

 

“my friend got arrested

for keying his girl’s car.

once the apartment management

got wind of it, they

evicted him.”

 

“shit. that’s too bad.”

 

“he really fucked her car up.

wanna see?”

 

He showed me his phone

and sure enough

the car was marked up

end to end

in deep white lines

 

“what a dumbass,

throwing it all away

like that.”

 

“yeah.”

I took a long drink.

“so what are your plans

now?”

 

“Don’t know.

I applied for a night clerk

position at Best Western

but I haven’t heard back

yet.”

 

“you need to get out

of that town.”

 

“I need a car first.”

 

my wife came outside

 

“food’s ready.”

she said.

 

“alright.”

 

“I’ll be there in a little bit,”

my brother said,

“I’m going to smoke.”

 

“okay.”

 

I followed my wife inside

Everyone was gathered

by the kitchen island

where the food was displayed

buffet-style

 

I saw my son

running around

opening and closing drawers

 

I picked him up

and kissed him

knowing

it wouldn’t always be

this easy

 

the responsible man

he was 50 now,

with white hair,

crooked spine,

sagging gut,

and bags under his eyes

 

he had worked at the same cubicle

for twenty years,

reading spreadsheets,

translating data to sellable merchandise

 

early on, he fancied himself a writer,

and the job was solely a means of income

as he emptied the contents of his soul

into short stories and poems

and sent them out to publishers

 

once married and with child

he wrote less

and then,

finally,

not at all

 

now an old man

half-asleep at his desk,

he received an email from a publisher’s son,

someone who had taken over the magazine

and was clearing the slush pile

to make way for new submissions

 

“We would like to offer our sincerest apologies

for our late response…

 

We’re in the midst of a major transition

but we cherished the opportunity to read your work after all these years…

 

Unfortunately, it was not a fit for our upcoming issues…

 

However, we would encourage you to submit again in the future.”

 

he closed the email

and sat for a moment, staring

at the spreadsheet in its place

 

he began to weep softly,

holding it back so as not to be heard

over the sound of phones ringing

and coworkers talking

 

afterwards

he wiped his eyes

sat up in his chair

and returned to work

 

productive as ever


Nathaniel Sverlow is a freelance writer of poetry and prose. He currently resides in the Sacramento area with three cats, one incredibly supportive wife, and his young son. His previous publishing credits include Typehouse Literary Magazine, Map Literary, Ricky’s Backyard, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Literary Orphans, Squawk Back, and Bone Parade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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