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Only a very few people in the world know that the celebrated and reclusive poet Jack Allen is just Kansas mechanic Dean Winchester, a high school dropout with a few bucks to his name. Not that it matters anymore; life has left him so wrung out he never wants to pick up another pen.
Until, that is, a string of coincidences leads Dean to auditing a poetry course with one Dr. Castiel Novak. The professor is wildly intelligent, devastatingly handsome...and just so happens to be academia's foremost expert on the poetry of Jack Allen.
“Did he ever thank you?”
“You’re so worried about whether either of us ever thanked him, and sure maybe we should’ve said it once in a while, but did he ever say it to you?”
“Course not,” Dean muttered. “But that’s different.”
“Is it?” Sam shook his head and looked out at the fireflies. “Love’s austere and lonely offices—that could be a father taking care of his son. Could also be a son taking care of his father.”
To say it was a pleasure to have you as a student would be an understatement. Not only did you keep class discussion lively and intriguing, but whenever we talked one-on-one it brought home to me that I hadn’t had such rigorous poetical debate in years. I’ve grown to respect you as a peer and, I hope, a friend. Please accept this gift of poems, written by a man who reminds me of you: someone who, despite hardship, makes his way through life with empathy, righteousness, and an abundance of soul.
My best to you now and always,
“Those nights in that in-between time
In in-between spaces,
Truck stops and 24-hour diners
From bygone eras and unforgiving lights all
Left up bright,
Rundown bars made seedier
By smoke and starlight and fluorescent strips
Warring with half-dead neon,
Dad more than half-drunk on his last job’s last wages,
Drinking to forget Mom (but really forgetting that
Erasing her erases us),
I learned to play pool.
I hustled and ran my luck and got my face
Busted up for my troubles.
I learned to drink beer because drunk people think
Drunk kids are a blast,
I learned to charm bartenders and waitresses and gas station clerks with just the right quirk
Of my lips’ corners,
Learned how to scrounge coins for the coffee machine,
And how the change-jangle heaved the hulking thing
Into spitting out cheap joe, stale from sitting hours in a heated can,
But with money to earn I learned that
First sip is always perfect.”
Dean paused here, wondering if Cas would call on someone else as he sometimes did for longer poems. But his professor simply scrolled the page and looked back up expectantly. Dean took a steadying breath and forged on.
“In those places in-between
Earning money you’re lying in wait for it,
Girls don’t paint thick eyes and lips to look pretty,
They do it to advertise in Coca-Cola red and
Marlboro menthol blue.
But kids don’t need to advertise.
I’d just bite my lips and hit my cheeks hoping the blush
Would hide the hollow pits
And it must have worked, because
Never accepting less than ten dollars, I let men
Use me in-between the in-between,
In the shadows where the dim back door light didn’t go,
In rusting bathroom stalls on half-mopped tile,
In truck cabs rising in quiet rows like metal monuments
To the liminally dead.
I liked the outside best, though, dirt soft on my knees
As I gave everything, everything to please these sorry men
Starving for that instant
Because in the dark, under the shade of my eyelashes
The men could imagine me looking up at them,
While my gaze was up and over them,
Observing the sky and counting the stars
As I bobbed and asking myself,
Is there life?
Is there life on Mars?
The men always came, and they liked to tell me
My mouth was perfect.
“When I think back on those days
I don’t hear the skeletons banging in the closet,
Or see that this country is built
Like a Dust Bowl carnival pitched by deadbeat dads,
Where cotton candy is the only sweet sold
And it melts in the mouth like happiness:
Insubstantial and sticky until washed away
By a single tear,
And the most popular ride is the
Merry martyr machine that goes round and round
And up and down
In endless sighs while blasting broken lullabies,
And you ride and you ride,
Until a snarling unicorn with paint
Peeling from his horn crushes you
Under his heels.
(Though a few, a very few
Rise up to enjoy the view from the top of the
Or so they say.)
“All I see is the next morning,
Dad snoring across the room
And me proudly pouring a bowl of the best cereal
A single dollar can buy,
And Sal smiling at the marshmallows
And me shushing as he slurps milk with his spoon.
The TV’s showing Scooby-Doo,
A bunch of kids in a big car
Cruising the country solving mysteries,
Masters of their own destinies,
And it was perfect.
“I’m telling you,
It was perfect.”