In This One We Drank Too Much

for C

At night, it was always a crowd, a crown of hick kids
and metalheads, half buying weed from your bedroom
and the other playing cards on the floor. I would sit
mute, munching on mac & cheese, whatever was cheap,
and drink. You sat next to me and we listed
the songs we would like to be played at our funerals.
I told you my mother would demand something slow
so I could sleep. You wanted the whole thing recorded,
every record you had ever touched getting a minute
of rotation, a microphone instead of a flower clasped
between your hands, broadcasting
to the world as each friend walked to the casket
and told you about how they had stolen twenty dollars
from you or slept with your ex-girlfriend.

Did you know that Miranda loved you?
That the whole ride up from Florida she rubbed your name
into the leather of her car, that week we spent on your couch
in Charlotte, the city of the traffic cone. All three
of us were nineteen but a friend of yours worked
at the gas station, so you would grab
a blue Lowe’s bucket and lug it the half-mile walk, before
filling it with staggered layers of 40 oz Smirnoff Ice
and lottery tickets. Our quarters scratched
against the paper surface until they turned to dimes.

By the time we drove back all Miranda could talk
about was how the traffic would kill her, how your
teeth were too crooked, and that you drank too much.
We drank too much.
You were an addict like me and said you would spend
the next month clean, and I wonder if you did. I never
talked to you again, and I don’t even know how you died,
but last week a friend called to ask if I knew a drug dealer
in North Carolina, and I almost said your name.
This must be how your mother feels,
a mother to the dead, standing in Walmart, surrounded
by shoes, trying to remember your size.
I’m calling your number, crushed when a stranger says
No, there is no one named Caleb here.

Artist’s Statement
I guess in a way the poem started on a weeklong trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, sleeping on Caleb’s pullout couch, watching his roommates play video games, drinking Smirnoff Ice. But in reality, the writing of this poem started in Fall 2019, shortly after Caleb passed away. It was startling and sudden, and caught me off guard. Then a few weeks later, I got a text message from a friend asking if I knew anyone in North Carolina. I was then again hit with the reality of his passing, I didn’t know how to describe that feeling, of someone dying twice in your mind, so I tried to write it. It took a while, a few drafts, reordering, changing the word “socks” to “shoes,” but eventually this is what I ended up with.

Tanner Barnes is an MFA student at Florida State University. His work has previously been published/is forthcoming in the Rappahannock Review, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and the Sierra Nevada Review, among others.