Townie Elegy

If I told you bagging groceries to pay for community college tuition
and a gym membership made me feel some kind of glamorous
it would be mostly honest and mostly, as I was then, ignorant
of any real responsibility outside of anthropology text books
and the push/pull full-body lift split I’d adopted from a thick farm kid
named Devin. It was the work, though, and the fact that I owned
what I was learning and what I was filling beneath my skin
that made hating what I didn’t know about myself something crucial
to wake up to and knead. If you’ve grown up in a college
town, let’s say this together: I’m not from a nice place.
On the fringes of academic enclaves are the battered and battering.
If it’s romantic or autumnal for waves of forgotten men to make trips
to campus drinking wells, to coax dizzy nineteen year olds
into their truck cabs, then it’s also important to pause
before reminding me that these things happen everywhere—
not like this. How can people measured against the beautiful-
brained and impermanent not be a little grotesque?
What if I told you although he pointed to the stud in my ear
and called me sweet heart, fairy heart, the father of a friend received
my rapt attention because he once worked masonry on St. Patrick’s
Cathedral? That the job trumped the man? How ridiculous
I must have sounded asking questions about New York City.
How full of sputtering nothing. But the grocery store gave way
to all the other necessary industries. Gym memberships
cost about the same anywhere. And though I never did go hunting
with him, I believed Devin when he told me that to wake at three
and sit in the stock-still air of a tree stand made killing more or less
a ritual of waking up. He made four thousand dollars selling venison
and racks that season. Enough for another two semester’s tuition.
So holler at me, he told me, if you more or less need something to do.

Jess Williard‘s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Third Coast, North American Review, Colorado Review, Southern Humanities Review, Barrow Street, december, Sycamore Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, The New Orleans Review, Oxford Poetry, and other journals. He is from Wisconsin.