PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA

for my sister

I know you are here, Kelly, for as sure
as sway-backed rednecks and big-boned
girls in string bikinis haunt these bars,
I can feel you in the wasted air.
These were your stomping grounds, this gulf
a potion making you so dissolute
you had to rise from wave-foam,
pull yourself together just to make a ghost.
Whose idea, anyway, to throw you to the fish,
when it was beautiful dumb boys you liked best?
We should have scattered your gold flecks of bone
on the Spinnaker dance floor, where you’d have
outmingled the sand and hopeful dust, gone
home on some blonde lifeguard’s boot heels
to whoop it up and sleep it off.
So what kind of guardian angel can you be?
We never got along. I despised the simple
vocabulary of your friends–the man
and cool, GED and DUI, your culture
of drugstore haircolor and cat fights.
I paid a fortune for my red hair, my friends
went to colleges nowhere near the woods
of West Georgia, and that made me better than you.
We went to Destin, Sandestin, where
my then-husband could loll on the golf course,
return smelling of sweet grass and nonchalance.
And now, the years turned inside out
like an air-brushed t-shirt, it’s me in Panama City
because suddenly I can’t stand my kids or the boyfriend
who felt fit to announce after eight months,
I’m not in love with you. But it might change.
I’m the woman whose roots are showing
like an oil-based stain that can’t be covered.
What have you done with him–Tad the Frat Boy,
twenty-three year-old I picked up at the Barefoot Bar
just to prove, at thirty-three, I could.
What’s happened to him, turned hostile at no,
since he put me out in the street–trashed
and stumbling down the strip as well as ever
staggered any tattooed girl named Tammy?
And from where did you send it, the white stretch limo
I didn’t call, too drunk to dial a phone,
the one whose driver knew my name
and where to take me home?

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