ISBN: 9781-59948-708-3, ~40 pages, $12 (+ shipping)
Release Date: November 6, 2018
ISBN: 9781-59948-708-3, ~40 pages, $12 (+ shipping)
Release Date: November 6, 2018
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Steve Coughlin received his M.F.A. from the University of Idaho and his Ph.D. from Ohio University. His poems and essays have appeared in several literary journals and magazines, including the Gettysburg Review, New Ohio Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Willow Springs, and Slate. His book of poetry, Another City, was published by FutureCycle Press. He teaches creative writing and American literature at Chadron State College in northwestern Nebraska.
These poems are so real with pain and yearning that they become almost surreal, so that as I’m reading and thinking how the work resonates with that of Phil Levine, suddenly I’ve shifted into Mark Strand land. In Coughlin land, the personal becomes the collective to create a liminal space in which the desperation of these lives howls its way into song. I deeply admire this wrenching, urgently human, and beautifully redemptive collection. ~Derek Sheffield, author of Through the Second Skin
These poems unwind like a road trip, racing from memories in the rearview. In the shadow of night, our driver contemplates the past looking forward, and invokes the future that might have been. We steer through crowded cities and lonely frontiers, past lost friends and lovers and family, through failed factory towns and nostalgic hangouts. Squeeze in and feel the presence of Frank O’Hara, Robert Lowell, a little Whitman—and Springsteen on the radio. ~Matthew Evertson, Director of the Story Catcher Writing Retreat and Festival.
Work starts at six a.m. You can arrive early but never arrive late. This is your workbench. It will always be your workbench. This is where you put your work gloves. You can place a photograph of your newborn son here or here, but not here—this spot is only for your work gloves. In twenty years your newborn son will be murdered. His skull will be cracked open by a tire iron. His body will be discovered between railroad tracks and a shoe factory. Here is the only machine you will ever work on. It makes quarter-inch gears. On the first of each month I will collect your union dues. Don’t ever forget to pay your union dues. At the top of this stairwell is the roof. Instead of eating lunch, most days you will run five miles on top of the roof. Don’t ever touch the quarter-inch gears—not even when wearing your work gloves. They burn hot for at least an hour. To pass the time you might want to watch the gears fade from red to silver. Here is a pair of goggles. They are not required. If you choose not to wear these goggles, they should always be hung from this hook. Don’t bother to consider the uses of quarter-inch gears. Nobody bothers to consider the uses of the gears they make. Here is a stack of envelopes. They are for your union dues. When you go on vacation make sure to train your temporary replacement the wrong way to make quarter-inch gears. Have him pull this lever instead of this lever. This will make you almost irreplaceable. There is asbestos in the ceiling. There is asbestos in the walls. Your doctor will inform you that asbestos could be the reason you get throat cancer the year after you are laid off. There will be surgery that removes half your larynx, you will speak in a whisper for the rest of your life. But that’s in thirty-three years. These are the men who work on the floor below yours. They will never learn your name—you will never learn theirs. When we go on strike in fifteen years you will picket next to these men. Even though they will not speak to you, by then you’ll understand we are in this together. Days will drag by slow, each gear no different from the last. You will learn to hate quarter-inch gears. But don’t complain. There are men who have worked here much longer who have earned the right to complain. When your son dies the union will send you a bouquet of flowers. This is one of the benefits of belonging to a union. The company will not send you flowers. The company will require you to fill out a bereavement form. The union is the reason you’ll get a week to grieve. Remember, if it wasn’t for the union you would not get this. Our bouquet will be placed right beside your son’s casket.
Together Wendy we can live with the sadness
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.
—from “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
Understand when Bruce Springsteen turns to drummer Max Weinberg
whose windstorm of drumming produces a musical crescendo conveying
the impression “Born to Run” must be ending
there is in fact an entire verse yet to be played
where Springsteen will continue to jam on his Fender Esquire
and I will continue to search the audience for my idea of you
most likely wearing a tight red skirt like Rebecca Hansen in twelfth grade
because how could you not be somewhere
in Montreal’s Bell Center this April night in 2003?
And if Springsteen’s encore ends and we somehow don’t connect,
how can I not follow my idea of you in a black leather jacket
to Montreal’s trendy Mile-Ex neighborhood to indulge
in a Cranky Canadian Bitter Porter at Bar Alexandraplatz
or wander through Montreal’s Red-Light District
which feels delightfully erotic
because so much of the flashing neon is written in French?
How could I not enjoy my weekend escape from Boston’s spring drizzle
when hovering before me each mile up I-95 was the possibility of you?
You in fancy dangling earrings wandering Vieux-Montreal.
You on Saint Catherine staring through designer shop windows
at overpriced purses. What does it matter if you’re not standing transfixed
before the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal
when there’s the chance I’ll discover you ordering pastries at Queues de Castor?
Just as there’s the promise of fulfillment in “Born to Run’s” final verse
how can I not continue to search the Bell Center
because even though we’re inside you must be wearing green striped mittens
like Chelsea Levins at the homecoming parade in tenth grade
and how could your hair not be braided like Melinda Carly’s
my junior year of college
or maybe you’re one of the well-dressed women I yearn for
as I sit in The Bitter End Coffee Shop
watching with great interest as they order espresso after espresso.
You whose body moves in near-perfect rhythm.
You whose hand searches for mine.
You who also scans the crowd frantically
because how could your idea—your perfect idea of me—ever let you down?
The whistle sounds through miles of emptiness
as you pause before each sleeping compartment door,
press your face against the rectangle
of frosted glass searching for his heavy eyelids, greasy hair—
your brother’s forehead still purple from the tire iron
that cracked his skull. Along the narrow aisle you listen
for his music, his record player, its one working speaker,
blaring Black Sabbath. Where is his denim jacket,
jeans worn at the knees, a bag of dope
tucked in the front pocket? In the dining car your mother
blows cool a spoonful of soup, the newspaper’s evening edition
spread before her; your Aunt Kathy, comfortable again
beside her, eyes no longer clouded in a morphine haze,
asks the porter for another glass of sherry.
You slide open each washroom door, search closets
for his scuffed sneakers. In the smoking cabin
your grandfather again lights a thin cigar, wears his white Stetson hat,
but somewhere must be the neighbor’s car
your brother set on fire, his journal etched
with pages of schizophrenic threats. Your grandfather waves,
your mother, her face no longer worn with age, offers her steaming spoon to you,
balances an open palm underneath, but somewhere
must be your brother’s pocket knife, the bed—his bed—you inherited
in one of the sleeping compartments. Even here he wants
to press the thin blade against your throat. In the baggage car
you examine the shadow behind your grandfather’s bicycle, open each drawer
of your mother’s antique rosewood dresser. Where are his faded t-shirts—
his Marlboro baseball cap hung from a hook? Even here you squeeze around
the food cart, open the next car door and stare
out the window—wheels rumbling through darkness—waiting
for his fingers to tap against the glass.