Poetry by Rich Ferguson
Pouring Down Silver
As he sat on his bed in that Vegas hotel room he took another swig of tequila, then pulled
a lock of her hair from his pocket. It was
the ribbon-tied lock of hair she’d given him
after they’d first said “I love you.”
It was the lock of hair, soft and swirling
as the outline of her body at rest. It was
the lock of hair scented with loss, regret,
and unanswered questions.
It was the lock of hair, the lock of hair.
He slipped that lock of hair
down through the neck of the tequila bottle,
capped the opening with his thumb, and
shook the mixture. The hair changed
in length and form as it writhed
in its golden lair of liquid poison.
Like a mescal worm, it tempted him
to bite into it with all its
He prayed the lock of hair
would soon dissolve into the tequila. He prayed
that by the time he counted to ten
it would be gone, so he could
drink that woman down into the deepest,
darkest places inside
and be done with her.
Well past the count of ten, the lock of hair was still there.
He placed the tequila bottle on the nightstand,
wondering whether it would be he or that lock of hair
that would stay strong enough to survive.
Betting on his own survival,
he strained his ear against the whine
of the TV test pattern to listen
for the sound of his heart.
When that sound didn’t come
he imagined his heart
already having turned into something
made of stone and silence. A stone and silence
like that of the highway—
the stone and silent highway
that had taken him from L.A. into Vegas that morning.
It was then he’d begun at the Stardust,
playing one slot machine over and over,
pulling at the mechanical arm
with all the fury his sorrow and anger would allow.
Around noon, the machine jammed up;
money spilling out non-stop. He stood there
mesmerized, staring at the machine
pouring down silver, quarters
falling to the floor, bouncing
brightly around his feet. He filled two buckets
with the twenty-five-cent pieces, then
ran out of the casino to hit
all the bars he could find.
Now, as he sat on his hotel bed
he again listened for the sound of his heart.
Just as he detected the briefest sign of life,
he heard an explosion. The blast
shook the room;
raped it, ravaged it,
tore it inside out a million times crying.
Wallpaper flew around in one great rush of tattered pieces.
The mirror broke into a fantastic, crashing opera
of catastrophic sound. Shards of glass
spun above his head in a brilliant array;
their precise glittering movements
reminding him of the showgirls
he’d seen at the Tropicana earlier that day.
As he reached out to touch the shimmering whirlwind,
a fireball shot through the wall behind his bed.
Suddenly, it felt like he had wings. He was flying
across the room. Flying like he had
in childhood sleeping dreams. He recalled
the tequila bottle on the nightstand
and wanted to go back for it.
But no matter how hard he tried to fly
against the annihilating waves of heat and energy,
he couldn’t reach it. He’d already become
too much a part of the devastation—
his skin was melting off his bones,
his bones and heartbeat collapsing
into one magnificent whirl of ash,
his ashes mixing into the carpet,
into the rest of Vegas
that was becoming one vast and brilliant heap of ruin.
A repeated series of blasts
tore his hotel room walls to rubble.
He wondered who was dropping all these bombs
and why, of all times, now?
There was another blast, and another.
Yet something was different:
the bombs were no longer exploding outside.
Now, he was being bombarded from within,
somewhere near his heart.
It was amazing, he thought, how the enemy
had not only devised a weapon that could work externally,
but internally as well.
He crawled across the floor,
grabbed the tequila bottle,
broke it against the nightstand.
Blood, tequila, broken glass: everywhere.
He couldn’t tell where his own life ended
and the obliteration began.
Another round of blasts shook the room.
The third explosion in the series burst out his heart.
There were pieces of it everywhere—
shrapnel heart lodged in bones, burrowed in brain,
still other pieces shot wild into the night
and piercing the moon.
Everything around him grew smaller, floating off in the enshrouding dark.
He held the lock of hair to his chest, just over the place where his heart used to be. The lock of hair melted into that emptiness, working like a morphine drip to ease his pain. There was another blast. And another.
As his last memory-filled remains were consumed by the next wave of devastation, he realized he could still hear the whine of the TV test pattern.
He found it strange that with everything around him gone the set was still working. He wanted to turn it off but couldn’t quite reach.
Photography by Erwin Blumenfeld