Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Imperative

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Imperative

Article excerpt

In the fluorescent stain of the Gas-N-Go,

where sausages parch on rollers and the bun steamer huffs,

he shifts his weight from foot to foot,

idling inside his solitude and held within what

I imagine is the sorrow in his father's eye.

On his puffed tongue

doughnut pulps against the roof of his mouth.

A sugary liniment glazes the rind of his chin.

I am extra long at the cash machine,

sheepishly counting my two twenties

once, twice for good measure. I read my receipt.

I turn to the newspaper rack for distraction.

A trucker thumbs through his change, hanging back

hoping the path to the front counter clears of his embarrassment.

I keep them in my sidelong stare

until the father, his face settled to stone,

peels a sticky hand from the mouth and leads him out.

We hear the son's low braying

moan mixed with spittled bewilderment,

someone isn't happy

hear the father's quiet tones calming him as if,

as if he were... what?

What swallows the heart and spits it out? …

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