jessevalentine.

MAN ON THE FLOOR

By Jack Powers

I remember my thirteen-year-old self walking through my
     sister’s freshman dorm as the girls yelled, “Man on the 
     floor! 
Man on the floor!” and I, not yet a man but hoping, looked 
     for any excuse to fetch forgotten items from the car
or just stand in that hallway soaking in that mix of fear, 
     annoyance and flirtation. My idea of a man then was 
     probably my father’s 

paycheck-earning, pipe-smoking, golf-ball-whacking,
     bourbon-swilling silence or James Bond’s unstirred cool. 
     No, it was probably 
just playing football, basketball—and baseball until someone 
     learned to throw a curve. And girls—Courtney Carron, in 
     particular that fall, 
and dreams of getting a hand under her tight shirt. Even over 
     the bra would have had me standing taller for a week. 
     Once my dad, 

after a hot afternoon of golf and a cart of cold beers, broke a 
     rib mowing the lawn when the mower overheated and
kicked back into his chest. I’d been hearing the mower roar 
     and stop, roar and stop, watching my father search 
     through the grass 
before screwing something back in and restarting, but I didn’t 
     know until afterwards that the mower was out of oil.  

So when my father tiptoed around the house, saying, “I’m 
     fine,” through   gritted teeth, I wanted to shout, “Just say 
     it hurts” and 
“Just say you’re an idiot.” Of all the things I’d sworn I’d do 
     differently than him, my ability to admit my idiocy has 
     never developed. 
I’ve learned to apologize, but—there’s always a “but” as I need 
     to explain why every stupid thing I’ve ever done 

seemed like a good idea at the time and I wonder if the girls 
     were really yelling, “Idiot on the floor! Idiot on the floor!”
The first year I taught, I wore sneakers to school because I 
     didn’t have any adult shoes. My boss suggested I take 
     charge of the class more: 
use a point system, assign seats and buy some shoes. But I 
     didn’t want to make the class any more oppressive than it 
     already was 

so I threw her a bone and bought semi-comfortable shoes that 
     weren’t too dorky. The shoes seemed like one more part 
of the disguise I was sure they’d all figure out someday. They 
     say everyone feels powerless; the last to know they have 
     power 
are those who have it. Is that true for the clueless as well? 
     What clues have I missed? I think of Edie years ago 

calling me an asshole. I had to agree. “But,” I wanted to 
     explain, “I’d spent years dreaming of that night—
when we climbed into your parents’ car in that dark garage 
     and laid the seats flat, when I was finally inside you—
I wasn’t thinking about Kerry arriving from LA in a week—” 
     but Edie didn’t want to hear it. And I didn’t try to 
     explain. How could I? 

The day before he died, my father awoke in his hospital bed 
     and said, “Everything in Springfield is just like it was—
Dreisen’s Fountain, McDougal’s Grocery. The whole street is 
     the same.” “Did you see anyone there?” I asked, 
not sure if it was dream or dementia. But my father’s eyes had 
     turned to the wall. Sensing the end—hoping really, 

because the next stop was a nursing home he’d made clear he 
     never wanted to see—I went to get my family from the 
     lounge.
All I could hear was the squeak of my semi-adult shoes on 
     linoleum in that hospital hall. Stroke and dementia 
had softened my father, made him kinder. He seemed to 
     appreciate us all more. “You’re a better father than I 
     was,”

he said one night after he’d watched me coach Will in some 
     peewee basketball game and if he wasn’t my father 
I would have hugged him, but I needed a stroke myself to 
     break the habits of our long history. “Thanks” is all I 
     could sputter, 
not “The rules have changed. You did your best.” In class, a 
     student said, “You forget 90% of your dreams 

in the first ten minutes you’re awake.” What percent of my 
     dreams did I forget by age twenty? The list of failings 
my thirteen-year-old self nurtures increases by one. Some 
     Septembers the freshmen boys’ attempts to saunter down 
     the halls 
are so uncertain, it’s as if the ground is shifting. I want to 
     shout, “Man on the floor!” to embolden their strides 

if only for a moment. I think of having yelled at my own son, 
     now probably back from school and rooted 
to the couch and his computer, and I cringe at how much I 
     sounded like my own father: sarcastic, impatient,
wanting the problem solved now. When I open the door he’s 
     already glued to his laptop eating Chex Mix. “Sorry,” I 
     say. 
“What?” he says, trying to keep one eye on me and one on the 
     screen. “I’m an idiot,” I say. And he flips it shut 
and says, “What?” Before I can say, “But …” the dog starts 
     barking and    barking. I don’t know what he’s trying to 
     say. 
I kneel on the floor to calm him, but his barking grows more 
     frenzied, his furious tail sweeps magazines off the tables.  

The dog picks up a toy and begins a high-pitched whine that 
     sounds like singing. My son is asking, “What are you 
     doing?” 
I shake my head. It doesn’t matter what I say, just what I do. 
     The dog keeps singing. My son’s brow furrows in 
     confusion and concern.
But I can only lay back on the floor, close my eyes and slow 
     my breath as if I could fall asleep and wake up and start 
     all over again.

[Courtesy of RATTLE]

Fred Neil - Water is Wide
30 plays

CALLING HIM BACK FROM LAYOFF

By Bob Hicock

I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones

hear?

Bob Martin - Hotel St. James
28 plays

PASSING THROUGH ALBUQUERQUE

By John Balaban 

At dusk, by the irrigation ditch
gurgling past backyards near the highway,
locusts raise a maze of calls in cottonwoods.

A Spanish girl in a white party dress
strolls the levee by the muddy water
where her small sister plunks in stones.

Beyond a low adobe wall and a wrecked car
men are pitching horseshoes in a dusty lot.
Someone shouts as he clangs in a ringer.

Big winds buffet in ahead of a storm,
rocking the immense trees and whipping up
clouds of dust, wild leaves, and cottonwool.

In the moment when the locusts pause and the girl
presses her up-fluttering dress to her bony knees
you can hear a banjo, guitar, and fiddle

playing “The Mississippi Sawyer” inside a shack.
Moments like that, you can love this country.

Dave Alvin - King Of California
34 plays