Passing Through

What’s left here that nostalgia would find
satisfying? The haunts of your youth, carved

over with graffiti or the tracks of skateboards.
At every turn, billboards advertising Hotel

Sofitel, Eat All You Can, City Lunch, Go-Go
Dance, Dim Sum Palace. Where in this wilderness

of palimpsests is the door to the dreaded
dentist’s office, the neon sign in the shape

of a noodle bowl; the all-night diner where,
out of pity, the wife of the balding owner

once slipped you a cup of fries and a Coke
while your parents bickered and fought, fought

and bickered and made up, oblivious to whoever
might hear? What happened to the row of small shops:

the baker, butcher, haberdasher; the apothecary
and its shelves filled with vials smelling of mint

and camphor and lavender? That parking lot used to be
the movie theatre where you got your first job;

after cleaning the aisles, the toilets, and all
around the popcorn and drink machine, you sat

with the other temps on the steps out back. Everyone
talked about how they couldn’t wait to get away to their

real lives, away from this place where nothing ever happened.
And that girl who offered you your first smoke, saying, Here,

there’s nothing to it, it’s just a little bit of burning paper.
You weren’t sure what you wanted, but took it anyway. Because

isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? She wanted to sing
and act; but she only got as far as Tarlac; you married

too young. Her eldest son now runs Ace Laundromat,
where clothes spin in chrome baskets in the shadow

of a church famous for the seam in its center aisle,
dating back to the war. The owners of the Boulevard

Bistro are gone, as are your parents. So many hopes,
once crammed with their own ammunition, ready to go.

And you, passing through— you pry yourself loose,
as you have some kind of life elsewhere to get back to.

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