excerpt from THE BOOK OF FOOLS: AN ESSAY IN MEMOIR AND VERSE
I stepped off the Greyhound into a light rain, streetlights
slurred, just shy of the border, a line of taxis at the curb,
waiting, right where my mother said they would be.
I had never gone anywhere alone in my life. And I guess
I thought I was supposed to bargain. “How much to ride
through the slow rain of my whole life?” Twelve dollars.
“How much to step inside a painting that has waited
since the day of my birth?” Twelve dollars.
Twenty-one, just out of college, the high school genius
with no job or prospects—afraid to talk to people--
If I looked half as lost as I felt, I was sure I’d be fleeced.
“How much to tell her that I have forgiven her?”
Twelve dollars. “That I have not, but I will.” Still twelve.
That was America, everything a fixed price. He didn’t say
“Empty your pockets, empty the pail of blueberries
you picked with her when you were five, empty the beaches
where she swam, sand by sand.” I like to imagine
I asked last, “How much to go to the International Motel?”
and he said ten. But, really, I just quibbled,
then checked with each cab in the queue. All said twelve.
and I got in. This was America. And that was me.
Bargaining for a taxi to go see my dying mother.
Originally published in The Tupelo Quarterly.