Birthday at Motel 6 by Mark Wagenaar


—after Chloe Honum

Dusk-lit clouds, tattered remnants
of a hurricane above a motel
a thousand miles from anywhere,
cornfields & corrals stretching away
on every side. Kind of place you end up
if you’re carried away by a swarm of bees,
the kind that sends a list of names
to ICE each morning at dawn.
But I too crossed a border
to get here. I too need a little help
to get to sleep, & will leave, as well,
without a trace, like fog.
Like fingerprints. For now,
a little ice bowl the size of the hollow
in Canova’s ribs. A lifetime of bracing
against the chisel. Coke machine glow
about as far from Rome-light
as we are, this one-time congregation,
from Rome. On this day almost
two hundred years ago the body
of Raphael was discovered
in the Pantheon—he asked to be buried
under the altar. Across countless
Midwest midnights, grasshoppers hurl
themselves against screen doors,
& cars in this parking lot,
against eternity’s snare drum.
Hushed conversations just above
the rainpelt of small bodies, how many
miles tomorrow, my cousin promised
me the job, the baby’s an apple already.
Something wings by. Call it the past,
so close & impossible to touch
it might be starlight or forgiveness.
Sound of the turning of the years,
or the engine of an eighteen wheeler
hauling people in its trailer across
a labyrinth of highways. No altars
here but the throats of sparrows.
Still, let there be something at the end
of the road besides the end.
Let there be nothing needful left
lacking. Let there be a tomorrow
for each of my fellow pilgrims.
My homeland begins where their prayers do.


Mark Wagenaar is the author of three books of poetry, including the Saltman Prize-winning Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining, just released from Red Hen Press. He is an assistant professor at Valparaiso University.