That Southern Ghost Two poems by M.C. St. John
That Southern Ghost
Crossing an alleyway, he hears two sharp honks from a car rolling down the ruts of ice toward him. The sound snaps his thoughts clean in half—her smile through the windshield, Cheshire in the reflected trees, is all he sees now.
Those are familiar teeth, he thinks.
The tires crunch snow. The engine idles.
The smile fades from the black branches.
After he passes, she revs and pulls a right into the street. She leans past her passenger seat, regarding the scene from another angle: It’s the man she keeps crossing paths with and doesn’t have the guts to run down yet.
From the sidewalk, he recognizes her too: It’s the woman who disrupts his life from time to time, the one he loves, the one to whom he’ll write another goddamn love poem about his latest near miss.
She guns it, but her Arkansas plates break any chance he’s made her up (it’s her Natural State, after all).
He watches the taillights of that southern ghost, red eyes behind her exhaust, before she escapes down Lincoln Ave. With three million people in this city, accidents are bound to happen, he thinks.
Alone again, he wonders when one will actually happen with her.
Blue Ticket Moment
He remembers waiting for her in the bar, Scout’s, holding a pint with as much care as enriched uranium, sweat of the glass kissing sweat of the palms. This was for other men, ones on TV soap operas mostly that did this sort of thing.
Then she’s there.
There is no spotlight as she moves towards him. She wears no revealing dress or makeup or sex kitten grin.
She is just as scared. This is for other women in magazines tabloids mostly that did this sort of thing.
Still, she’s here.
They smile, pass words like kidney stones. He orders a pint for her, they talk Faulkner, particle physics, rollerskating, circadian rhythms of Fiddler Crabs, any damn thing except subtext of scripts written in real time.
Empty glasses, sung lyrics, a finger tracing the vein of a wrist. She pulls blue paper from her purse, creaselickrips a sheet in six raffle pieces. Blue tickets, she says, three for you, three for me.
Admission, he says. Of statements, she says, or questions. Concerns, he says.
She giggles, her lower lip pouting on her glass-rim, making his ankles buzz in their argyle socks.
He drops a ticket in her now-empty: the fact you said quagmires at this hour is brilliant.
Easy out, she says. A ticket with one sharp corner: Does she know where you are?
He shaves with another ticket, back and forth across his face. She watches a barback cutting limes.
A moment, two, and the wrinkled piece lands next to her coaster. I don’t know what I’m doing here, he says, I’m watching this from the front row.
She nods. She knows. It’s enough. Another blue: the coffee at my place is on the house.
Now now, he says. Coffee, she says. Just.
The tab comes. He insists and she insists he’s a fool and pays half. They watch each other tuck away their final pieces: his goes in his wallet, between insurance cards and a lotto scratch-off, hers lands in the zippered pouch of her pocketbook (and she will see it every time she needs correct change).
The discussion is over size and whiteness of teeth as the revolving door pops their cork of air into sodium arc March, the El flashing sparks, fingers finding each other mutual calluses noted (enthralled, embraced).
Their linked coat sleeves generate static electricity only the gait of tall people can when walking in the street to the mouth of LaSalle.
The panhandler thinks, Good couple, when the man drops coins in his cup and the woman says, bonne nuit. Their laughter echoes in the stairwell with the oncoming wind
from the train underground, blowing scripts and scraps of paper like the last skiff of forgotten snow.
Not one piece is blue.
M.C. St. John is a writer living in Chicago. His works have been published in After Hours Press, Literary Orphans, Maudlin House, Chicago Literati, Quail Bell Magazine, Word Branch, and Unbroken Journal–the last of which nominated his poem Telling Stories for a Pushcart Prize. His first fiction collection Other Music will be released this spring.