The Protagonist

In movies and novels, the protagonist turns the key
In the ignition, leaves entanglements in a lopsided
Rear-view mirror. He doesn’t bother to adjust it
Because what’s abandoned isn’t important. He passes
Prairies and mountains, coyotes crossing the highway at
Night, truck stops full of flannel shirts, caps, and bad coffee.
Stopped somewhere up ahead, Walt Whitman is waiting.
Jack Kerouac eats apple pie and vanilla ice cream on
A stool in a diner. Gary Snyder cooks stew in the desert.
The winter constellations are fireworks against a black sky.
But, it’s all wrong. Walt Whitman died in Camden
And Kerouac in Florida, surrounded by conservative
Magazines, beer cans, and bitterness. The road ends
Where it started, a cliché like a sour stomach. The protagonist
Ages badly. Whatever he thought he’d find, it wasn’t
Where he thought he’d find it. Arthritis invades his ankles
And his hands. He doesn’t draw the same breaths anymore.
Whitman was supposed to be waiting, but he never
Showed up. In New Orleans, in the morning, they’re washing
The sidewalk in front of the bars. The strippers have gone
Home to sleep. Trucks collect green bags of garbage on
Bourbon Street. It’s Sunday, and the Cathedral is open for
Business. In the park, the statue of Andrew Jackson
Continues to tell the same lie. Bukowski was thrown in
Jail in Texas. At the water’s stubborn edge in California,
The protagonist finds an absence he can’t talk about.
His thoughts sink in the waves, like sea glass or books
He won’t read again. At rush hour, the traffic slows
Without any obvious reason. He wants an ending that’s
A real ending, one where everything make sense.
Instead, there’s just traffic going nowhere.


George Franklin’s most recent poetry collections are Remote Cities (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions,
2023), and a dual-language collaboration with Colombian poet Ximena Gómez, Conversaciones
sobre agua/Conversations About Water
(Katakana Editores, 2023). Individual publications
include: Solstice, Rattle, Matter, Cagibi, New York Quarterly, Sequestrum, Tar River Poetry, The
Threepenny Review,
and The Ekphrastic Review. He practices law in Miami and teaches poetry
workshops in Florida prisons. Website:

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