The only laundromat is on the white side
of town, so you wash your clothes
in the hotel sink. Below your window,
an industrial park flat as a runway,
scattered with rocks and shattered glass.
Even the prison, you hear,
folded a few years ago. The best jobs
are north of here: 50 miles, Tunica,
riverboat pay. By moonlight you drove
that open stretch of 61 where
a stranger warned, don't pull off the road.
Because the yoghurt and salad
you'll find on sale are a week
into rotting. Because the cashier
won't return your change
or smile. Because the boy who stops
by your window in the parking lot
is no more than nine. He asks
for change to buy a burger
and you worry that some teens
put him up to it. Alone beyond
the pale circumference of lights,
you whisper, I'm sorry, sweetheart. No.
- Dilruba Ahmed (from Switchback)