Best of the Net 2011  

Mississippi Delta

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)