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Yelping Bar 342

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If you leave a message that means anything,
I promise I’ll call you. Here’s proof:
It was imperative that I return Ren’s purse
that she left looped to the chairback at the bar last night
when she got blackout drunk.
I texted her three times before realizing
the phone that I was texting was in the purse I held.
So I began the inverse of the long walk
I’d taken home to retrieve my car
to leave the purse with the day bartender
since I had no way of contacting Ren
and I imagined her first move would be
to call up to the bar to see if anyone
had found a purse the night before.
Jimmy, the owner, had bought me that last shot
of Canadian Club, raised his glass, and said,
“One for the ditch,” but if I made
one good decision last night without endorsing
some lax notion of free will, it was because
I didn’t know I’d hear the Edsel Ford
marching band’s bass drum, snares, and brass
over the din of traffic on Outer Drive this morning
with the west wind at my back.
If this is pep—banal, monosyllabic, metaphysical—
I’ll un-stopper it and put it in my step
before kicking fallen sugar maple leaves.
That school’s namesake takes a belt
of Cutty Sark for how woefully he’s been
forgotten and composes a letter to James Couzens
with fountain pen by lamplight.
If, like Ford and Couzens, I had a freeway
named after me, if it were a ’38 Lincoln Zephyr
I was retrieving, my car with its silly domed roof
and balding tires and my friend Ren
wouldn’t be in the Bar 342 parking lot
when I walked up, and there would be more
to do than wait for the door
of that windowless cinderblock building to open.

Cal Freeman is the music editor of The Museum of Americana: A Literary Review and author of the books Fight Songs (Eyewear 2017) and Poolside at the Dearborn Inn (R&R Press 2022). His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals including Image, The Poetry Review, Verse Daily, Under a Warm Green Linden, North American Review, The Moth, Oxford American, River Styx, and Hippocampus. His poems have been anthologized in The Poet’s Quest for God (Eyewear 2016), RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music (Michigan State University Press 2020), I Wanna Be Loved By You: Poems On Marilyn Monroe (Milk & Cake Press 2021), What Things Cost: An Anthology for the People (University Press Kentucky 2022), and Beyond the Frame (Diode Editions 2023). He is a recipient of the Devine Poetry Fellowship (judged by Terrance Hayes), winner of Passages North’s Neutrino Prize, and a finalist for the River Styx International Poetry Prize. Born and raised in Detroit, he teaches at Oakland University and serves as Writer-In-Residence with InsideOut Literary Arts Detroit.