What Comes Next

By Maxine Scates

Featured art: A Flowering Cactus: Heliocereus Speciosus by Pierre-Joseph Redouté

Life’s police car, lights flashing, on the sidewalk

in front of McDonald’s and two boys on the bus stop,

one boy moving quickly away from the other

who raised his hands and dropped his pack as the officer

approached, gun drawn. But how did the cop know

which one he wanted since both wore watch caps

and gray parkas and carried backpacks? He seemed

certain enough as he handcuffed the boy

then helped him into the back of the cruiser

his now gunless hand almost gently dipping the boy’s head

into what comes next, all we don’t see swallowing him, the

signal changing, day swallowing me until this morning

I remembered this much and how my mother

couldn’t have known that when she said the names over

and over each name, Emil Miney, who played piano

at my Uncle Charlie’s wedding up in Boulder City

where he’d gone to build the great dam, or sad Mary Shields

and her withered leg, became a story bobbing in the current

a tugboat crosses towing a barge where everyone,

even Polyphemus, one-eyed and fierce, has a song or so says

Ovid, and so we listened but sometimes didn’t hear

our own, the postman who lived across the street

and hid behind his dusty curtains, and Emil’s sister Evelyn

and her husband Phil yelling at their kids on Sundays

and two boys not yet born, one stepping away

from the other, we’ll call him Luck, and the other,

Wrong Place, Wrong Time, earphones dangling, stomach

churning, about to step into the part we can’t see.


Maxine Scates‘s fourth book of poetry, My Wilderness, is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press in the fall of 2021. Her poems have been widely published in such journals as Agni, The American Poetry Review, Ironwood, The New England Review, The New Yorker, and Virginia Quarterly Review. She has received, among other awards, the Starrett Prize, the Oregon Book award for Poetry, and two Pushcart Prizes.

Originally published in NOR 9

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