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Houston in the Early Eighties

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before iced coffee came to town, a sump from which I’ve fished
many a memory of regret and loneliness and whose misery
I now understand came less from my pocked nature than from
the chokehold of blue laws, and from my broken-willed Eeyore
of a used car which liked to stop stubbornly in Sealy, halfway to
Hill Country, and always one day after the insurance ran out,
and from the paucity of public space so that we drove (locally)
from shopping strip to balding park, once to a leech-infested pond;
and owing also to the blinding afternoons that made invisible,
to the unpracticed eye, micro-lands of existing urban hip, or just a bench
on which to read the paper, the scarce sense from city planners
that those residents without garden-crusted homes held their own set
of municipal needs which might take the form of some kind of . . .
beauty; together with the impossibility of finding deep
shade or hearing wind flash through trees, the abundance of short
rain storms or hurricanes, both of which, equally, caused water to boil
out of the sewers and flood the car (which wouldn’t, then, even be
starting out to break down in Sealy without borrowing again
to fix it); and the living rooms’ glass sliders opening without apology
onto the apartments’ walkway and courtyard, motel-style,
furthering the shallow sense of experience; and all this witnessed
by two small universities whose meek students made no protest
that their third-largest city in the United States—a town sporting more
soft-food cafeterias than all the chipped-beef eaters in the world
could possibly attend at once—offered but two art cinemas
and nearly nowhere to wander or peruse, nowhere to make peace
with the simple fact of your twenties; and on such a day as this,
the one I walked through this morning in late June, on such a day
we would have gathered those friends we could draw from their corners,
their condos, their garage apartments humming to beat the cicadas,
and we would meet in one driveway with a particular lock-and-key
of desperation-and-relief I have been lucky enough not to feel since,
a collective village slamming the doors on our town, plugging in
a tape as we took off for Galveston because if it was going to be endlessly
flat it might as well be on a beach regardless of the soupy knee-high water
or the thwapping mullets jumping out of it, and we might as well be
together on a blanket in the middle of the desert drinking something
cool enough to slake one of all our many raging, hissing thirsts.
Source: Poetry (July/August 2009)

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This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

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Houston in the Early Eighties

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