James H Duncan

Food, Gas, Motel—Exit Now

weary tunnel-vision highway drive,
numb hands and aching lead foot, I see
the exit sign for home, followed by
the sweeping curve of the ramp onto
Route 9, and there it is, just past the Hess
Station and the Knights Motor Inn, that old
Burger King from decades past, right
across the street from Green Meadow
Elementary School, grades K-4, where
I spent formative years on the library
floor, in the music room, in an art smock,
climbing a rope in the cavernous gym,
where I won a giant green pumpkin for
winning a footrace in October, 1989

I pull into the Burger King lot, the place
where we always stopped during field trips,
usually afterward on the way home from
bread factories, Indian trails, museums,
stage plays and even an opera once, and
after waiting in line with great anticipation
I’d always get one of two things: whopper
with cheese (yes, even as a small boy)
with onion rings (never fries) and a brimming
sparkling ice-filled Dr. Pepper, maybe Coke,
maybe root beer, in that order, or failing
the whopper, the “oval”, that long chicken
sandwich in an oblong shape, and I’d pick
up my order and go sit with friends, or alone,
but always by the aquarium tank separating
the restaurant proper from the sitting atrium
and I’d watch the idle fish bump along
the glass wall and eat my food and think
about what I saw that day, enjoying the moment
before we’d all pile back onto the bus to
continue life and the little various hells waiting
for us out there beyond the atrium window

but they closed the Burger King and I sat
in the empty lot staring at the boarded up windows,
shaky from the long drive and hollowed out
from no food in seven or eight hours, and those
boarded up windows hurt in a way I hadn’t hurt
in a long time, like seeing the exit ramp for home
turned over to grass and disappeared, like seeing
your parents house demolished for scrap, nowhere
to go, nothing to do but get older, hungrier, sicker,
more scared, less willing to fight for what good
things might be at the next exit ramp, but not
all that weak just yet, still time left to pull out
of the lot, wait to turn left at the light, and find
that damn Taco Bell everyone used to like so much
then keep on up Route 9 for whatever little hells
waited beyond the string of lighted intersections

For more by James, visit www.jameshduncan.com.


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