Heartbreak Hotel

Photo: Adam Wilson. CC0/Public domain.

The tattered flag, raised long ago and then
Forgot, flutters and snaps above this run-down
Downtown at-risk-of-being-torn-down hotel,
Shabby lobby boasting once-classy colonial
Couch that, ages ago, hosted fierce lofty talk
Over tea. Nothing like the new gilt tower built
Uptown, charging what—a million a night? Carpet
Here downtrodden by the down-at-heel, trudging
Home from work down dingy halls. From 1A, warm
Fragrance of greens on a hotplate. A mother
Stands, and stirring, begs her son: please don’t
Go out with that hoodie on. Scoffing, he’s
Gone. She keeps stirring, muffled weeping too
Proud to be heard. Next door, the clerk from
The local drugstore winds her hair in a tight bun.
Her mascara, blotted by one angry tear: the night
Manager’s hands. In 1C, the rookie officer, shining
A pair of shoes for graveyard shift. His despair he
Swallows to an ulcer, bracing when he leaves for
Side-eye from the tenants—who, he frowns, he’s
Sworn to serve—later, his partner’s sneer if he’s not
Quick to draw. Madder each day, he fears he’ll slip,
Join the bad apples, hurt someone. The hall stair
Rattles: puffing, a red-faced giant with bent back
Leans on the rail, wheezing to reach 2A. Forget
The elevator, always broke, the motor smokes, you’d
Fry before the fire truck arrives, in no hurry since
That third-floor crazy crowned them with a rock.
Keys, fished from pants so worn he tries not to go
Out. How good, the old days at the plant—sure,
Worked like dogs, but him their union rep, he
Gave the suits what-for. Not sick a day! Now, no
Sooner through this door than his eyes seek out
The sock drawer that hides those pills. He swears
Each time will be the last. But his grandson can’t
Pay for Little League, and they don’t bother asking
Grampa any more—him, who’d owned a ball that
Gehrig signed! These days, can hardly buy a beer—
World’s gone wrong, somehow, for sure. That website,
Though, Red showed him at the bar—his blood ran
Cold. And Red’s got cash! Just not raised right…
Himself, he’ll stick to yelling at the late-night news,
The ruckus carried to the futon in 2B, waking the young
Man who’s lost his job—downsized—and then
Dropped college. Determined not to turn mean
Like his brother, he tries on spotty Internet to get
The algebra high school subs couldn’t give. When
He can’t solve for X, he daydreams of the girl
Next door, her Spanish lullabies crooned to
A bright-eyed daughter, who’s locked in alone
When Mom’s shift’s late. He’d offered once to
Babysit. The mom stared like he was a monster.
Who could blame her? His own mom’s boyfriend,
He’d…well, crazies everywhere, that third-floor
Guy’s got guns for sure, his sister Sundays hauling
Groceries up cramped steps, her face haunted,
Harried, like: What can be done? Now from
2A, he hears the record player scratching,
Starting—great!—no rants tonight. It’s
A song he’s heard before: “One man’s
Ceiling is another man’s floor.” Who
Sings that? he’d asked once, as they’d
Passed on the stair. The old guy’s
Face, a moment, flickered—then
Snapped shut, like: “What’s the trap?
I know your kind.” But that’s not
True, none of them knowing,
Really, not at all. Just hearing
The crying through the wall.

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