by Jesse Millner
of Chicago back in the 1980s when I drank shots and beers with Polacks and Puerto Ricans in West Side bars, sometimes until dawn licked the city skyline, bringing meaning to the Sears Tower, 1454 feet tall, 110 stories of glass and steel rising above downtown as I lowered myself into the driver’s seat of my ’74 Pinto and headed home in a world of unforgiving light. Luckily, I had dark plastic sunglasses I’d been given at a neighborhood block party. They were green and advertised Old Style beer, which, even in memory tastes bad, which, even in memory brings nightmares of bedrooms piled high with dirty clothes and an empty bed that had once been shared with a wife, who had left to pursue her dreams in California. I spent long nights chasing the bottoms of whiskey bottles until I was so drunk I didn’t know whether or not I was asleep or awake; or condemned to a land of shadows, an in-between place where nightmares were more vivid because the brain was a soggy swamp full of writhing snakes who spoke seven languages, each one of them unique in its sorrow, prophetic in its bleak prophecy of another day I’d awaken hungover and sad about wasting my life, even as I planned a trip to Osco where I’d buy a fifth of Jim Beam at ten in the morning on a day when the rest of the world went on with the mundane business of the ordinary: work and school, then perhaps an evening concert at a park where the symphony played music from another century, where young couples held hands beneath giant elm trees whose branches reached high into the night sky almost touching a star or two. This is the business of trees and dark, the work of living things to find each other when the music plays, when the world has softened into the living night, a time of possibility, a time of stars and moon, a whole season where even shadows live fully, sneaking cheese from the plates of concert goers, licking the tines of plastic forks and human lives.
Jesse Millner’s most recent poetry book, “Memory’s Blue Sedan,” was released by Hysterical Books of Tallahassee, Florida, in April 2020. He has a story in Best Small Fictions 2020. Jesse lives in Estero, Florida with his dog, Lucy.