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Letter from the Parking Lot, a poem by Joel Showalter

Letter from the Parking Lot

One of the sparrows 

near the dumpster 

doesn’t see me until
I am too close, and he 

startles, in a paroxysm

of feathers and gravel,

propelling the tight fist 

of his body skyward, 

hurtling, missile-like, 

up and over my right 

shoulder. And I too

am shocked, stopped

mid-step, not by this

blitzkrieg action, but 

by a reflex that rises

in me, quick as any 

creature’s: to reach up 

and block the unseen 

arc of this bird’s flight.

I find myself wishing

for a baseball mitt—

me, who hasn’t swung

a bat in twenty years,

who as a kid was always

sent to the outfield, where

I could do the least

harm—today I want

the chance to pluck

this line drive out of

midair, not for some

crumb of redemption,

no, this limbic impulse

feels deeper. Perhaps it is 

that old, original urge: to

capture those who have         

what we do not, to fix 

the moth to the mounting

board, to hang the bear’s

head above the mantel,

to sear and swallow


the fish’s flesh, to steal

and steal again, and then

to lie about it,

as the geese weep

silently from our beds,


and the fireflies stare

from glass jars, clutched

in the arms of our own

fine children, whose hunger

seems only to grow.

Joel Showalter has spent his life in what other people call the Rust Belt: half in a small Indiana city, half in a major Ohio metropolis. The region’s varied landscapes, as well as its many inherent tensions, continue to influence his writing. His poems have appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, december, Delmarva Review, Mud Season Review, The Christian Century, and other publications around the country. In 2020, he received an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.