Halfway House, Downtown Los Angeles
By the time he booked into St. George’s Hotel,
Room 204 — across from Wild-Ass Willie
and a kid who’d burned his liver out at twenty-four —
the keys he’d saved from doors he lived behind
totaled fourteen. He kept them on a necklace his girlfriend
gave back before splitting for Denver for good.
We, his fellow addicts-in-overhaul, hear his derelict
breathing behind the door he never locks,
muttering the way our last counselor did.
She left us cold after a bandwagon fall of her own.
Her replacement swore she never liked it here anyway
— none of us losers, damned pleased to find a home
in another city, driving alone all night to get there.
Variation on the Neighbor Across the Street
Streetlight falls in a pale aura around the Ranchero
she reclines in the bed of, her head slightly back,
a broken couch hauled off from somewhere
boosting her in its musty grip, her blue-jeaned thighs
spread in defiance of all etiquette save solitude—
near graceless, a patron at a Left Bank café,
her eyes dark as Delvaux’s nightfall women.
Long exhales from a long brand of cigarettes
are a private sacrament that puts a haze between her
and the clarity of this cloudless night, where galaxies
bleed faint silver through the California sky.
I watch, for an hour plus, as she gazes upward
as if seeking some tender or fragile mystery
in the mindless distance above, the breath-flamed
tip of a fresh cigarette a semaphore in the dark
beyond my living room window. I think
of her mind’s eye tracing some unseen star-fall
over fissures, like scars, in the streets she’ll drive
before dawn, her blown smoke gliding densely,
its gray pall a harbinger through the gaining fog.
Bullpen Reliever’s Fragment
Hitters I struck out were legends
shutouts and low ERAs put me on all-star dockets
a World Series save that lit-up hometown girls
I broke my throwing hand from an off-season
fight over a cardsharp’s whore in Juarez
a weakness in sliders and curves in spring training
sent my ERA up
and my ass down to the minors
I’d hoped for but one season in that bumfuck
the hand healed like a saint’s miracle
a comeback imminent
a call-up to the majors—maybe a starter this time
no phone call
no bullpen in the big leagues
an October bus through cornfield rain
home in south Texas
I watch the phone and wait
find the reservation casino
I always did loosen up quickly
and goddam I’m still good-looking
dealing blackjack in this border town.
Jeffrey Alfier won the 2014 Kithara Book Prize for his poetry collection, Idyll for a Vanishing River. He is also author of The Wolf Yearling, The Storm Petrel, and The Red Stag at Carrbridge (forthcoming). Recent publication credits include Southern Poetry Review, Hotel Amerika, and Poetry Ireland Review. He has a master’s degree in Humanities, but he doesn’t do shit with it.