At three am, we were singing ”Free Bird”
In the backseat of your dad’s old Pinto, circling a construction site
Long since abandoned for the night. Its billboard instructed, “Hope,”
Which was all we could do as the sirens drowned the radio.
We sat up straight, crossed our fingers, and tried to pretend
That you didn’t stutter when asked to recite the alphabet.

As you drive, you spew racial epitaphs like they’re letters of the alphabet,
And don’t think twice about flipping someone the bird.
At first we laughed it off as a joke, but now it’s hard to pretend.
You say you haven’t had a drink since that night at the construction site.
“It’ll just take a while for me to adjust to sobriety,” you promise, turning up the radio.
Silently, we bob our heads to “Barracuda,” but we don’t have much hope.

When it comes to understanding you, you say, your girlfriend is beyond hope.
As you rattle off a list of her offenses, as long as the alphabet,
I nod, and fiddle with the broken dial of the radio,
My heart hammering against my ribs like a caged bird.
You are a wrecking ball and my body is a demolition site.
Lying beneath you, I wish I was dead. I close my eyes and pretend.

We’d all gotten real good, these last six months, at playing pretend
And stringing ourselves along on false hope.
But when the cops finally let us through to the crash site,
I want to sling curses at you for every letter of the alphabet.
You sit on the curb, swaddled in blankets like a rescued baby bird,
As the cops call in your DUI over their two-way radios.

My dreams are haunted by the tinny music of car radios,
By your naked body, and the smell of alcohol and gasoline. I try to pretend
Not to see the track marks on your arm, the injured wings of the fragile, flightless bird
You have become. Unlike me, you are new to the idea of lost hope.
Without your license, you sit and watch Bert and Ernie sing about the alphabet,
And scratch listlessly at your swollen arm, infection spreading from the injection site.

One late night an eternity ago, you told me you’d already chosen your grave site;
It was July, and we were sprawled on the hood of your car, blasting the radio.
An antique Cadillac, you said, buried along some highway named for a letter of the alphabet.
The Greeks had a ferry and the Vikings had their Valkyries, and you too would like to pretend
That death is just one more great journey. A car meant possibilities, hope;
Flying free across the open road like some strange, terrestrial bird.

They found you in your T-Bird, static coming through on your radio,
Parked at the construction site that’s now a condo complex. I pretend
Your headstone is a Cadilac windshield, and trace “hope” in an invisible alphabet.