Between Major Exits
Benj Vardigan

It's the remnants I need,
rusted out GAS signs with the A
just an outline. I'm in it for
the roadside collapse,
             caved-in ramshackles I slow down
for between major exits where
one ancient pump stands overcome
by tall grass beside a sagging TAVERN
whose outer walls
             pull away
revealing the rubble
inside, a few barstools no one resold
due to gouged, splitting vinyl, stools
swiveled variously like the drinkers were
             lifted up and out
             through the roof
             of their era 
but I drop them
             right back in there now
taking in their first swallows of beer
from bottles. Driving slowly past
I sense the rush of carbonation up back
in behind the nose of a man
pushing a quarter back and forth
on the bar where he's worn through
brown veneer to draw a white oval
fading to yellow and back to brown
at its edges — all this

is what I need: 15 watt
bulbs over tables in the saloon
(when they called them saloons),
15 watts for the soft eyes
and talk beneath them, the dim
but steadfast lines 15 watts toss
on wooden balconies rested
on across the years as

I drive on in air-conditioned
interiors being passed and passed
again and soon I will hit
the big exits, GAS FOOD LODGING
in bright white against green, EconoLodge
and Roy Rogers looming, and I
will pick a bar from the many
and take a stool and ask for what
I can't have, ask to believe
it's a tavern where, okay, there
were bad nights with fistfights
spilling out on gravel parking lots
and couples falling apart over
well whiskey and ginger ales

but I need that too
if I'm really asking for the years back,
15 watts trained on all of them,

15 watts shining down that dim
                                    persistent trail
between major exits

Benj Vardigan, an editor at Consumer Health Interactive, lives in San Francisco and calls Michigan's two peninsulas home. His poems have appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Washington Square, New York University's literary journal. When not writing poems or working, you may find him eating with The Füd Court.