I’m not sure what to say about that night
at Vic’s Tavern, a quarter-mile from the weekend
rental house, or hours earlier, the fire pit
the four of us huddled around, scalding our knees,
our gloved hands clamped around beers in the icy mist
of a twenty-seven-degree Saturday in April.
Our hair and jeans reeked of smoke and when
we couldn’t take the chill we went to the town’s one bar.
We shot pool ‘til one of us sank the eight ball on the break
and it wasn’t long before the regulars crowded in.
I think often of the couple throwing their fists
at the electric punching bag for an hour straight,
bloodying their knuckles again and again
against the AIM HERE circle. I’m not sure
what to think about the drunk who called my friends
a bunch of jagoffs when they wouldn’t take their turns
throwing the punches he’d spotted us
on that machine. I’ll remember the mounted buck
with taxidermied fangs and how the patrons
clustered, none of them a day over twenty-five,
the men shadows in work clothes looming over
their high-school sweethearts, each sizing
the others up, how more and more appeared as the night
went on, shifts ending hourly around the county,
until they silently side-eyed us into leaving.
As we hurried back we heard a sound rise
off the frozen Sacandaga River, a loud piercing moan
riding the wind of the incoming ice storm
and couldn’t decide if it was the frostbitten trees
or the restless floes caught between the banks.
A former bar owner, SM Stubbs has been nominated for the Pushcart and Best New Poets; recipient of a scholarship to and staff member at Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference; winner of the 2019 Rose Warner Poetry Prize from The Freshwater Review; finalist for the Gunpowder Press Barry Spacks Prize 2022. His work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Poetry Northwest, Puerto del Sol, Carolina Quarterly, New Ohio Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Crab Creek Review, December, and The Rumpus.