“Baby Forever”

Every night, there’s no place to go. No one to go back for. Had a home and a girl that wanted me cozy and still, but that craziness could only last for so long. Off I went, driving B Town up and down it’s iron ore hills, past its rich houses where they bleed into the poor ones, hospitals, six skyscrapers, airport in blue lights. All the way to the old factory squares in the north end that stay broken out and spray painted on. They were the places our fathers and uncles dreamed up to make a secure life, where our mommas wrapped us in skin and bone and pea shells desiring pearls. Now they are fort ruins with nothing left to protect, where I dreamed I was a bucking horse no one had the hands to catch. But how long can someone drive before they pull into a ditch, fall so far down they die, someone’s momma singing, “Don’t sleep, my baby, forever”?

I stay out of the ditches by circling houses of people I don’t know. Sometimes they come to the window to stretch or drink tea or out onto the porch to sweep it. Maybe, when I found you there, you wondered who I was passing. Or maybe, you had been me at one time, restless and wandering, too. Most nights, all I find are yellow lit up squares of chandelier glass light, and further in, a funky red art poster, the top of an old dresser, the back of a chair watching your stairwell turning. But you people, you have been eaten up by the light. Have become what the TV watches, the refrigerator hums at, the dog barks and barks and barks for until at the cheap beer bar, you reappear, wanting a kiss.

“Stolen,” I say and point to your ring. “Who’s the thief?”

“Gone,” you say. “I wear it to remember we had a past. What was yours like?”

When I talk of the factories and my own tattered skin, it sounds like coughing, which turns you off. You can’t get into, you say, fucking a man who talks about his past with a stutter.

So I go and drive and spin until the truck feels as if it will never touch the earth again. It’s like that, too, when you finally give yourself. “Please,” you say, “kiss me with what our parents desired.”

Has to be an end to what’s going on in me. We drink and kiss and fuck until we break the sky apart, but by morning the sky is back together, washing over all we undid, and by night I’m driving round your house. Eventually, you’ll call the police so you can disappear to some other man, give him everything that is nothing of you at all.

Sometimes it’s not the yellow window glass I see or the downtown with its tall empty buildings coming into view from over the hills, or the factory docks made of dead horses. Sometimes there’s a lightning storm, those sticks of light, something of southern summers ready to take the spit out of my throat. That storm from another place altogether passes through here. Before it goes, I beg it to take me with it, to catch me in the wind like strewn paper and haul me off. But it won’t. It just can’t. The ditches, they get wider, deeper, full of new water and night. The road, it narrows. From below you sing, “Come now, my baby, you can’t drive forever.” You promise to rock me until what is in me stops. “Fall like this,” you say. Then you place my hand over your heart.

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James Braziel

About James Braziel

James Braziel is the author of the novels Birmingham, 35 Miles and Snakeskin Road. His work has appeared in journals and newspapers including the New York Times. Currently, he teaches creative writing at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.