Heartbeat of Hammered Dulcimer
by Alina Stefanescu

We stop for gas along the upper lip of Florida
with Alabama so close we can smell her
chicken biscuits. It is hot and you are my husband.
Those are our wild things bickering in the back. My thighs
unstick from the pleather seat like sudden-woke lovers, needing
to piss. As three kids spill clamor from the car, I follow noise
into the gas station. Pause near the Fritos
for a heart-beat of hammered dulcimer, run a finger
across a wood crate of iced cherry coke.
Win the life you always deserved my daughter reads
aloud from a yellowed lottery poster, her voice curling
the consonants. The cashier coughs, drops peanuts.
Can we win one, mommy? the other daughter asks.
My most fortunate friends believe this state
lottery will fund good schools for all Alabama’s children.
I’ve been momming down south too long to lie prone,
to play dead, to roll over. In this one-stoplight town
I admire the violent pink of pickled pig’s feet, slow music of thumbs
drumming counters. The line for quick dreams grows longest
in when hope is scarce. A wrinkled man leans
against the soda machine, says he’s likelier to hit the jackpot
than score a steady job. He hums luck like a national anthem
and lays quarters on the counter for ice. We wait our turn at the register.
The line for easy platitudes is longer than the lie, stronger than the heart
beating worn hammers. Someone must coin the slot
for justice. I wonder who will pay the price.


About the Poet: 

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with four incredible mammals. Find her poems and prose in recent issues of Juked, DIAGRAM, New South, Mantis, VOLT, Cloudbank, New Orleans Review Online, and others. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Books Prize and will be available in May 2018. She serves as Poetry Editor for Pidgeonholes and President of the Alabama State Poetry Society. More arcana online at www.alinastefanescuwriter.com or @aliner.