On Standby in Charlotte

If my father taught me anything, it’s that you
can’t get people to stay. I remember watching
him—stumbling, drunk—yelling at the stairs
of the apartment complex where we used to live.
My mother, a thin scarecrow protecting October
fields and hiding me, once again, in the dark storage closet on the landing.

The flight from Los Angeles to Amman takes seventeen hours. From a city of angels to a land
of fertility, but with its own desert half, and a Mediterranean climate. I know these facts. You
read them to me, Briana, on certain Monday afternoons in my bed. October
spent all the light it had on us. Every second counted in a freckle. I watched
as you squirmed those dancer hips against me under white sheets. For months I lived
in that bed, dreaming of pale shoulders, the capitals of foreign countries, the busy stairs

of the airport where you flew to a life away from me. From me, to Jordan, to a stair-
well—well, I’m lost. I’ve never had the confidence of a landing
plane, or a live
animal. My father was a pig—I heard my mother say so. You
should have seen him, Briana, the way his eyes would fall, like heavy apples, to truth. Watch
for my eyes when we are old like him, and tell me you haven’t slept since that October

morning when Jordan became your reality.
I hate that word. The rolling blows of the long Os. The cold it teases teeth with. The steep stairs
of the syllables—the orange taste of them turned bitter—the death of a late summer watching
November approach on tall ships to shore a final landing—
a falling sky of pumpkin pies, carved out eyes, and you
choking on dust when a shamal takes your vision. I lived

in a windowless attic until I held you, and then you ran off like a refugee. I fill my head with live
music, slam poetry, sad bastard short films. Maybe October
is too true to write about, maybe the word has branded me, or you,
or maybe it isn’t even a word. It’s a basement ten miles below our surface, with stairs
that lead us both to an arid land
the size of Africa, Israel—or maybe the size of April, if April were city streets watching

tall buildings spill pale bodies from high windows. My father moved to Boston, left me a watch
with a brown leather band and broken crown. How could I live
by that time, Dad? To think that I could spin a second hand and have it land
anywhere I wanted or wished—but eight always moves from nine into ten, September to October
and then November again. Summer months sweat down the stairs

of my skin into the living cellar of my stomach, watching and waiting to translate October
into poetry. But maybe there isn’t any poetry in me shivering on the landing of some stairs,
maybe it’s in this girl at the airport who says,
Sorry, Mr. Graf, but we don’t have a place for you.

About the Author:
Derek Graf was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. He is currently attending the University of South Florida to obtain his bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing.