Past the old stone house with its teeth knocked out.
Past the highway through the northeast hills
and the grain elevators and tractors, the tires
bigger than my height. And past each town that stitches
the smallest corners of a farmer’s quilt: Marysville, Beatrice,
Alma. Past Big Blue River that crosses state lines.
Past the roadside high school with its outdated scoreboard.
It’s next to the only gas station for fifteen miles and around
the corner from the hotel, the back wall erect like a parlor piano.
Past prairie-fire and the ashing down on a late March morning.
The black specks on your forearm and brow as you walk through
the town’s main street. It’s important to nourish
the soil that will yield its harvest. Past the store selling blue jeans,
Betty Boop stickers, the shoes you would never choose to run in.
The toe-box doesn’t feel right. The footbed doesn’t provide
the right support. But you’d run anyway, darting the road past
its hairline cracks and to its last inch. You’d say that this can bring
you past your fear and seven minutes short of a cardiac arrest.
This is where you say you feel stronger. This is where
the sharp inhale spikes you past your doubt. Almost past where you find
the clarity to say there is a space in which you can love me.
Past the sweltering in your voice when you hesitate and admit
that your bayou stretches too far from my prairie land.
From where I stand, an epi-pen stabbing into the ground’s
allergic bump. A far cry from the easy night when we threw aside
bar chairs, pumped the jukebox with quarters, and danced
past that last Sunday. We laughed and slid our way
across the beer-splashed floor. Past the parade route
of your biggest festival. Littered gum wrappers and necklaces clog
the drain-grates. The whole neighborhood sleeps off the excitement,
takes a breather before the next big thing. And past the abandoned
thrift store with its woman who would hold up a skirt and think
about dancing to Patsy Cline, sliding her hand along the base
of some sweet man’s neck. They’d dance past the Holstein bar,
the campground with its bank of fancy picnic tables
and to the river’s edge. She’d hope that past the man’s plans
to leave with the sun and drive north of Sioux Falls, he could stay,
he could press his hand into her back’s low curve. Hope finds its own
currency, presses it into your palm like a chocolate coin
on Christmas Eve. It’s easy to unwrap the gold foil, smile at the sugar
when the room looks festive. It’s easy to believe in something good
when the holiday candles are lit. But there are seasons
with not enough grain stored away. There are days when my gas light
glows fifteen miles from everywhere. What will happen?
I’m littering this road with coins. I’m asking you to find me.
Stephanie Kartalopoulos teaches writing and literature at Kennesaw State and Clemson University. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Missouri, where she was a Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry. Her work has appeared widely in journals such as Laurel Review, 32 Poems, Waccamaw, Thrush Poetry Journal, and Phoebe. Stephanie lives in Atlanta, GA.