3 A.M.

It's always three a.m.
in the heart of an alcoholic,
disoriented in the dark,
checking where I am --
the circulating cowboy clock
of my childhood bedroom,
Tip, the dog, between my legs.
On bad nights
the hairy head of Jesus
rising outside the window
by the Schwartzes' house.
Or nine years-old
at Y camp,
doubled up with pee,
knowing I'll never sprint
across the field
to the latrine at midnight,
just piss the bed,
endure the laughs
of guys whose demons
stayed at home.

Traffic Circle

When Vera picked me up at work, she'd been drinking all day. I never knew how she did it, drive straight and true and clean, tanked up with Miller and stoned. It was Friday and we whirled into the parking lot at Stillers Lounge at the Holiday Inn, Vera slamming the auto stick into park in that golden Cougar coupe. I followed her five-inch heels across the ice. It was January, after all, jamming hands into my pea coat, Vera swinging that brown purse from the elbow of her full-length leather coat. Not bad for a woman cleaning toilet bowls at this same Holiday Inn six months ago, when we met on a dance floor. Hell, she picked me up, all five-foot-one of her Korean self, black hair glistening down past her ass. Now we slid into seats beside the stage, the band done rehearsing, stacking guitars on racks, casting looks across at Vera. Three people nursed beers at the table, Tawny, black and afroed like Angela Davis, Beth, blonde and squat. and Joe, picking a pimple. Tawny had snatched her baby, run to the motel, hiding from her husband's fists. Beth, it seemed, was on a break from working on the streets, or maybe moved indoors for the winter. And Joe, 19, had just been dumped by the Air Force for dealing dope, clearly not his fault. They left to check on Tawny's baby and the bouncer dropped the day's bill onto the table. Great. I paid it, just as Vera ground her chair across the rug, hoisted the purse, and spiked those heels toward the door. Bouncer looked at me and smiled.

I caught Vera's elbow in the lot. She snatched it back. Oh, Mister Big Shot, paying the whole damn bill. Whose ass are you chasing? Tawny's black one, or Beth? Shit! And she was jumping in the Cougar, banging shut the door, and backing out almost onto my feet, then off toward the exit. Wait! Now I'll be stuck here in the snow with a battered wife, a hooker, and Joe. Suddenly, Vera stopped, stomped out of the car, door hanging open, and threw the keys at me. No, this is your car, Mister Big Shot! I'm sorry. I can walk. Which she did, straight out onto the highway, no sidewalk, just 50-mile-an-hour trucks, zipping off the traffic circle in the dark.

Great. Joe and Beth sauntered up. 'shappenin? Not much except this crazy woman is walking on the highway -- snow piled five feet high on either side -- sure to be roadkill anytime -- because she's pissed at me for paying the bill you walked out on. Man, chill, Joe said, surely the clear thinker here. We gotta get her. Beth rode shotgun, the genius in back, and I drove, turning right out of the lot, slowly, ignoring protesting horns, looking up the snow piles, but nothing, swung left through the divider, then back toward the circle. There! Beth was pointing up a bank of ice. Vera was walking on the top, purse still swinging, as we halted on what was left of shoulder, me easing out, a semi howling into the other lane, climbing up the banking -- Vera, dammit! (could she hear me over roadnoise?)-- she turned -- son of a bitch!-- and jumped straight at my face, biting, for crissakes, right through my eyebrow, flopping there like a flounder -- until I punched her in the stomach, and she collapsed, flat on the snow bank.

Blackouts they call them. She remembered nothing two weeks later, moved her stuff, and left my car, locked this time, on the sidewalk.

Jay Simmons has been nominated in 2012 for a Pushcart Prize. He has published in Sentence Nimrod, Illuminations, the Chiron Review, The Prose-Poem Project, Shakespeare’s Monkey, Blue Collar Review, Renovation Journal, Pegasus Review, Folio, Black Buzzard Review, and The Worcester Review. He lives in New Hampshire and teaches at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

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