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Justin Gardiner

"In real life Swanson was up there playing his banjo
but for some reason I turned him into a boom box, and
Renee is really Emily, but I figure if she can change
her name so can I."

Twelve Stories Up on the Roof of a Bank
by Justin Gardiner

After the wine was almost gone
and the boom box blared on,
Sarah and Renee stepped, casually,
out of their clothes, white curves of taut breasts
above the streetlights, screaming down
at traffic as they danced out
on the ledge that would hold them
because it had held all of us before.

And if that night was a kind of canvas
it would be one of a thousand
painted by the Old Masters
who used to slip in a self-portrait
away from the centered scene,
over by the fire-escape, where you and I
sipped the smooth dregs, passing
the bottle’s neck between us in the dark.

What saved us was no one looked up.
And when I think back on some
of the stunts we pulled, nights we orchestrated—
rappelling off silos and climbing the steel
ladders of moving boxcars—I see us, even then,
crafting ourselves into the stories
we would tell afterwards.

The oak-lined blocks I drive home on—
day’s long glow shining in headlights,
beneath the ledge where we’d call down
from that twelve-story height. People don’t
look up, they look back. And if they’re lucky
whatever they once felt for certain people
will resemble holding a pitcher over the sink
and letting it fill slowly with water:
a heaviness that gets them through.

But I also wonder, in a way
I’m not quite proud of,
just what we were after on those rooftop nights—
a friendship we could hold onto,
or a past we would lose.

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