From Homeland South
Rush hour bankers from old money
neighborhoods fold themselves
into the Eleven Express. Newspaper
veils face the city passing blocks.
Low angled sunlight cuts across
east to west corridors. Anxiety’s
morning coffee mixes with lithium,
stirs acidic mood. Maybe I will need
to make an emergency exit
at Mt Royal Station, relieve my
exploding side effects. I didn’t make
it last time. The plastic window
as headrest rattles sleep on my way
to work. The city spouts sewer steam
on Baltimore Street. Pedestrians
in business attire stroke through
congested arteries. The hard luck
homeless retreat with seagulls
to the inner harbor for breadcrumbs.
A dream of flight crashes into a pothole.
I gather sleep on the Twenty-Two, head propped
on plexiglass and no pillow. My summer job
at NIDA takes me to the end of the line, beyond
Highlandtown, to Hopkins’ Bayview Campus.
Six months sober I have gained entry to the research
arm of the War on Drugs, where scientists measure
vital signs of intoxication. I dissolve milligrams
of cocaine, pipette refrigerated piss into test tubes,
administer thin layer chromatography to doped
solutions. Dr. Darwin shows me how molecules flow
through the spectrometer according to mass,
revealing the chemical signature of an ingested drug.
The million dollar instrument distributes hash marks
on a roll of printer paper.
My father worked here last summer as a drug study
volunteer, another paid vacation from near vagrancy.
With government sanctioned marijuana, room and board,
he said it was better than the labor pool on South Broadway
or selling hot dogs in front of Social Services. I am compelled
to weigh divergences between my father and me, swimming
upstream, guided by magnetic career forces.
In mid-morning lethargy I split the hairs of family history.
* NIDA – National Institute on Drug Abuse
Spring Grove Express
Brick row houses of West Fayette stagger
between churches & corner bars. On board
the Thirty One, a gang of seniors gossip
about absent parishioners. ‘Who wants
to live forever?’ Captain Nosehair jokes,
‘I’m a born again atheist.’
My laugh reveals a failing faith. Been
falling from providence into mass transit,
two buses daily. Months before, I commuted
by foot though the storied quads of the academy.
A homecoming expedited by breakdown
haunts my new tenure at the local college.
Loudon Park gravestones oversee
our passage towards the county line.
Next stop: St Alban’s hospital.
Centuries of accumulated age file out.
Unable to fathom deep time my mind
pans away from final destinations.
Instead, I draw a UFO highway along
Wilkens Avenue, looking for an escort
to the next dimension. South of campus
arriving flights at BWI descend in
a receding line of ever fainter jewels,
shining one by one in relief against
an evening sky.
Approaching Maiden Choice Lane,
the bus zigzags in its circuit around
Catonsville. I disembark at UMBC
and sleep walk a psychic labyrinth.
No exit, no center
© Zachary Wardell
Zachary Wardell majored in physics and earned a minor in creative writing at UMBC. He left his hometown of Baltimore in 1995 to attend graduate school at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He received a Ph.D. in physics in 2003. His scientific papers can be found in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Academy of Sciences. His poetry has been published in five volumes of Interpretations, a project of the Columbia Art League.