Round Trip August

I survive another
anniversary of death.
I won’t swing censers loose
from their chains.

Sometimes all you need
is a title to tell the story.
And the title becomes too much
to bear without a witness
to tame all the stanzas
tumbling onto the track.

Then there’s the third rail.
Third Avenue, third river,
third act, third meal, third line
in the third stanza,

third child—I was his
number three (or so)
when I lived on the third floor.
So many mad women in the attic
to calm with a promise
no one wants kept.

I don’t just survive.
I prevail over mouthwash dispensers
in a Hell’s Kitchen diner
unisex bathroom.
I salute the man outside
Port Authority and his cardboard sign:

Gimme a dollar
or I vote for Trump.

I prevail over an unairconditioned C train
on a nasty hot August afternoon.
I salute the shoppers
inside Century 21 later that day.

Would my father have loved that pink sunset
over Jersey City?
Is he the one
who slides the dark curtain across?

These rhetorical questions
come wrapped in cotton
for safekeeping. I swear
the clouds visible from the plane
bringing me home
are cotton balls

that reek of rubbing alcohol.
I cringe. Which fear burns longest—
the one you admit to each day,
or the other one?

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