Issue > Poetry
Steve Coughlin

Steve Coughlin

Steve Coughlin teaches writing and literature at Chadron State College in northwest Nebraska. His collection of poetry, Another City, was published by FutureCycle Press.


I admit it was me who reached to the far back of the Safeway cooler to select
     the half-gallon carton of low fat milk because if featured three extra days
     before expiration.
And yes, I was the shopper who invested several minutes trying to decide
     between half-frozen avocados.

Did you say my new tennis shoes glow with a blandness that lacks imagination?
Did you say I am even more predictable after signing up for online banking?

But what if I didn't turn the car around at twenty, middle of the night, when I briefly
     considered escaping my Boston life for the possibilities of Hollywood?
Look at that me surfing Malibu waves—a shamrock tattoo on each of my chiseled
     shoulders, my muscled stomach firm as an iron shield—as my part-time
     personal assistant, Hernando Champagne, watches me perform
     a perfectly executed double aerial barrel roll.
Did you say you've never heard of a double aerial barrel roll?
Did you even know I am considering an intriguing cameo in the new
     Terrence Malick film?
And did you hear I assisted Terrence with several key changes in the script
     as we ate dinner at Chi Spacca?
Yes, that was us sharing an appetizer of marinated baby artichokes when Martin Scorsese      
     entered and once again informed us of his latest adventures
     with Leonardo DiCaprio. "Oh, Marty," I laughed, "None of us even care
     about your latest adventures with Leo."
And if you were privileged enough to see through the tinted windows of that stretched luxury
     limousine, you would discover I am just one of five trusted members
     of the Winona Ryder Golden Ticket Entourage.
But even that me wants to be home by 9:30.
When Winona taps my knee, her hair again styled into a tousled shag
     as it was in the 1994 film Reality Bites, and asks if I want to accompany them back
     to her Sunset Boulevard mansion for an early evening swim in her recently renovated
     salt water swimming pool, I still look down at my watch and say, "Maybe next time."

Preferable my closet of monochrome button-up shirts.
Preferable too my three indistinguishable pairs of beige khakis.

But what about this other me who moved to San Francisco at twenty-five?
Did you know I was hired by Italian fashion guru Robert Cavalli to wander the city      
     modeling his latest designs?
Did you see me in a cream-white single-breasted blazer with dual back vents
     sauntering along Sea Cliff Avenue?
Look at how I enter a new favorite bar in North Beach.
Look at the table of young female professionals overwhelmed by the aura
     of my presence.
Still, after a few days, just when the bartender with neon purple hair begins pouring
     my Midshipman Top of the Hops IPA with accompanying shot of Uncle Jack's Turkey
     Vulture Bourbon before I even order, I choose to stay home worn down
     by the city's unyielding rush.

Preferable watching a basketball game on the television.
Preferable these blue basketball shorts, white t-shirt—this half-finished bag
     of potato chips.
Look at how I resist going to the Old Main for a single beer.
Watch how I stay in my living room as another car, windows down, speeds westward.

Another Bruce Springsteen Poem

Mike backing me down to release his patented baby hook jump shot
in the summer of 2003 is not completely different from Bruce Springsteen

rocking with the E Street Band's Stevie Van Zandt. Like Little Steven,
Bruce's brother-at-arms, that summer I too wore numerous brightly colored bandanas.

And even though it wasn't Mike and me sharing vocals on a live performance
of "Ramrod," as our basketball echoed through the neighborhood

the stadium in my mind celebrated our every move.
It was afternoon drives through the Sonoma hills followed by wine bar breaks

at the Oakville Lounge. It was the celebratory chorus of "Darlington County"
blaring from the speakers. And even though Mike was driving

and Bruce singing, sometimes I'd call for a deep cut off Darkness
just as Little Steven occasionally stepped into the brightness

of Springsteen's lead-guitar-spotlight. Since he was four years older  
I understood that it had to Mike who ordered the wine.

The sommelier waited patiently as Mike swirled and sipped a Kenwood cabernet
with expert care. And since he was the better athlete it mattered to both of us

that each of Mike's baby hook shots resulted in the sweetness of swoosh.
These were the days when it was enough for me to experience the possibilities

of bratwurst in his backyard. We relaxed in our denim cutoffs listening
to Bruce's harmonica  on the "Promised Land" and as we hiked the Skyline Trail

in early evening and I wore my ornate purple bandana with decorative skulls
it was Mike I followed. It was the certainty in his voice I listened to.

And when Mike suggested we drink one last beer at The Green Lantern
I agreed. And when Mike wanted one more beer after that

I could only say yes. And by late August it could have been Mike
who wrote "Born to Run." Mike—in his own surge of brilliance—capturing the chords

Little Steven would help play. Just as it was Bruce
in the coolness of Mike's sunglasses. Bruce turning up the radio

in Mike's Honda Civic. Bruce singing in his gravelly voice—my bandana blowing—
assuring me he had everything under control.