Stay

Margaret Ross

The heat stank when you turned it on

This was the Desert Star, the Redbird
            Inn, the half-off room at the Rose
            Hotel Casino with coffee vouchers
            you could cross the sunken
            
gaming floor to redeem 

7 a.m. and people with soft collars tucked out
            over sweatshirts drinking Pepsi
            at the slot machines. Wherever you were

was the same place at the Motel 6, an
            orange bedspread. Hairs I pulled out 

would drift into loose webs
            with the others’ underneath the bed. It felt almost

comforting. Walking
            with our arms around our dirty clothes
            down to the Tan & Laundry, peaches

in a paper bag. Some erosion
            hidden by our stationary lives
            less hidden. The UV beds glowed violet

past the washer dryers. On a bus, a boy

behind me held a coke bottle
            then a bottle of piss I hadn’t
            heard him filling. In the diner, intimate

grit of strangers gathered at the low spots
            in a chair cushion. The ticking

of my wet hair over tiled floors. One person

sifted into another. The edges gave. But this was
            the present so you could pay to sleep inside 

the homes of strangers
            rated via star system. We spent a night

in what had been their daughter’s room

Another on a futon underneath a skylight, woke up sunburned

A book there told me I could
            diagram my life in two concentric circles
            of concern, of influence

We had reasons

We were always moving then people were
            getting married

A filing cabinet
            crammed with half-used sleeves
            of crackers, instant oatmeal 

Across the flat land, scattered silver pills
            of airstreams 

The smiley face nailed to a redwood
            marked the parking area

I walked slow down a dark hall
            with my hand out, touching
            toward the breath sound you were

The named roads
            followed by the numbered
            followed by those called by what they passed   

If people weren’t at home, they
            sent instructions

You could tell up close which cabins were
            vacation, which were real

The key tucked in the inner channel of a stapler

On the table lay a guestbook and a guide
            to human composting. Last night somebody
            turned six here

He’d seen a lizard

Drawn a picture of his face

We shook our shoes out in the dirt yard

Touched the succulents, their fleshy reds, gray-greens          

I had that place under my nails
            two days before I cut them

 

Margaret Ross was born in New York City. She holds degrees from Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has received fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, and Yaddo. She is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has taught creative writing at the University of Iowa, the International Writing Program, and Yale. Her first book, A Timeshare, was selected by Timothy Donnelly for the Omnidawn 1st/2nd Book Prize.

 

Photo by Matthew Smith