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POETRY / In Which I Compare a Salesman to the Roads I Did Not Travel / Beth Gordon

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In Chicago, yesterday, a man sat next to me at the hotel bar, drinking 
scotch whiskey with too much ice and an accent that marked him as not 

from around these parts, he said his wife had cirrhosis of the liver, 
that his daughter would only smoke weed, that he tripped on mushroom 

 tea on his way to a Tom Petty concert and never made it to the stage, that he 
sells laminated bags to snack companies and business is pretty good, he said

he met me at a clam bake, barefoot and howling at the moon on the gulf coast 
in the summer of ‘82 and has never forgotten my hand on the bottle of raspberry  

wine or the way I disguised my lust with tragedy, my tears sparkling like beacons
every time I walked into the bay, and I told him that his ice was melting, his scotch

might as well be spit, that I prefer bourbon or tequila if he knows me so well, that 
I spent 1982 in upper Maine in a lighthouse with the soap opera actor who sang 

Jessie’s Girl, and a garbage bag full of cocaine, hidden from myself in a canopy
of smoke and I left the widow’s walk to paint the toenails of escaped forgers and thieves  

with daisies and mimosa vines in Brooklyn until one winter night I woke to the sound
of dripping and found my face wet with the congealed skin of my neighbor who 

expired one floor above me in his tub, the cops and landlord would not touch me
but handed me paper towels, and I wandered far from water, have not been near the sea 

for over thirty years, I’ve scrubbed that death from my skin with sandpaper and 
kerosene, submerged in ash and oil, but nothing kills that smell, like a line of feral cats 

who sleep outside my door, and I said you have mistaken me for someone with curated tan 
lines in the shape of Mississippi, with one pair of jean shorts grown stiff with salt and sun, 

a jelly jar filled with oyster shells and corks, and a transistor radio that played nothing 
but the blues, and he ordered himself another scotch and said but, honey, I know it’s you.


Beth Gordon received her MFA from American University a long time ago and was not heard from again until 2017 when her poems began to appear in numerous journals including Into the Void, Outlook Springs, Califragile, Anti-Heroin Chic and After Happy Hour Review. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She is also Poetry Editor of Gone Lawn. Twitter@bethgordonpoet.