By the Waters of Babylon

Balding tires on a beat-up F-150
He does a good impression of the Man with No Name
As the thunder rolls along in a cloud of diesel fumes
Along a live track—that, at least, had stayed the same.

He lights a cowboy-killer, and inhales a quiet prayer
The worn-out tires spin on the wet asphalt through
His childhood home, one he no longer knows – his cares
Consist in banal matters of survival:

Two-thirty-three,
Two-thirty-nine,
Two-forty-one…

Prime numbers. He picked that up somewhere
Some other place, before he knew the price of fuel;
Before he knew he’d have to care.

“Y’know, my granddaddy was a farmer”
In the up-country, where cotton was macadamized
To make sure there would be enough parking spaces
They don’t carry carpetbags anymore, but high-rise
Apartments, creeping boll weevils all through the fields.

His folks shipped him off to school in his day
Where he’d caught a kind of rheumatism:
It hurt to bend his mind too much, he’d complain,
And they’d covered his eyes with cataracts—
Dim, stained-glass windows for his soul

He was too young when the harvest came
And had to settle for the chaff in place of corn
Passing state lottery tickets across a counter
Hollow horns of plenty for the lost and forlorn:
A surplus of misery makes for a deficit of pity.

The right hand has forgotten her cunning.

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Author: Stephen Borthwick

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