The Next 32 Years

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July 31, 2015 by The Citron Review

by Steven Coughlin


Park your car by this pile of week old snow. It will always be a used car, the heater will never work. These are the stairs you climb an hour before the sun. In the fluorescent light your breath will drift behind you and fade into nothing. This is the bathroom with the broken sink, the urinal like an ashtray. Each day you’ll work alone on the 1/4 inch gear machine. It’s the only machine the company could fit in the unheated loft. No matter how often you ask, the windows will never be shut. To pass the hours you’ll watch birds flutter among the rafters. You’ll look at the winter sunlight on the cold cement floor. Here is the man who lost his left hand with five minutes left in his shift. Though he works where it’s heated, you’ll always have it better. Watch how he raises the stump of his arm like a joke. Look at the machine that dug into his flesh and would not let go. Each day you will eat a cold bologna sandwich for lunch, carrots hard as ice. No jacket will ever keep you warm. No matter how long you wait summer will never arrive, the sunlight never warm enough to melt these piles of dirty snow. With each passing year you’ll become more like the icy wind, your silence no different than the stillness of January. After another sixty hour workweek, another night of leftovers in the refrigerator, a coldness will blow from you that is no different than the winter night, five degrees below zero. You will sit in the break room complaining to the only man who remembers your name of your failed marriage, another night of sleeping on the living room couch without a blanket, without a pillow. And when the furnace breaks in your basement, and your kids shiver sleepless in their beds, they’ll believe each frigid rattle of the window pane comes from you. You’ll be no different than this very loft–windows that never shut, winter light that never stretches. And still you will keep working. Year after year, your boots climbing the metal stairs. To pass the hours you will count the steps from wall to wall. You’ll look for any reason to come back into the break room. But we have worked here much longer than you. We know it’s best not to notice your presence. We will not look at the lunchbox in your hand, the jacket you have long stopped wearing. And your face, what does that mean to us–the tired darkness of your eyes, your lips pale and almost blue?


Steven Coughlin teaches writing at Chadron State College in northwest Nebraska. His first collection of poetry, Another City, was recently published by FutureCycle Press.

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Snow on brush in desert

IMAGE CREDIT: Jill Katherine Chmelko. Protest Road, Winter. 2019.

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