On some stretches of a drive overnight,
darkness is dense enough to seem mystical,
like a breath held so long it hardens
into a black ore. I sometimes think
if I look deeply, my eyes could drill
to the bottom and perceive its value.
But off-road station signs burn through
the tree line with a distracting cost,
a banality highlighted by advertisements
and rest stops, so I never quite see it.
In the passenger seat, my wife stares,
as if something lurks in the shadows
just ahead. At this late hour, the world
is like a promise that might not be broken,
but also a skin that twitches under threat.
Exhaustion blurs the border of vision
toward dream and a kind of betrayal,
like dear leaping from the black shapes
and over the guardrail. I think of my
children in the back seat, who,
in their deep sleep, hold to something
I can’t reach, no matter how many miles
I drive. And I keep thinking of Dido, the price
she paid for loving someone who believed
he had no choice but to keep traveling.
Mother quietly cried into her perfectly made
potato soup because father kissed another woman.
That starch warmed my chest going down,
and I could feel the stiffness in my pockets.
It’s why, for my entire life, I couldn’t seem
to pay enough for what was needed.
Back home, the plants were watered
but the shades were drawn, so they paled.
Father filled the crock outside the bedroom
with cigarette butts, the odor of ash and spent days
weighed the air and dampened every word
drifting through the halls among us.
So even when I was young everything I said
was stale. My phrases were brittle like paper
in old books. And I always spoke carefully,
trying to keep every broken thing from falling apart.
Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was longlisted for the Julie Suk Award. He received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award for his collection, Living in the Counterpoint. He also received honorable mention for the 2022 New Jersey Poets Prize. His poetry has been featured on Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac. It has also appeared in numerous journals including Main Street Rag, Pinyon, RATTLE, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Vox Populi.