Horrible Places | Zack Haber
Denver Greyhound Bus Station, 1055 19th St.
Denver, CO 80202
Are ya’ll ok? screams a woman to the bathroom. Are ya’ll ok? Like, come on. What is this? Shirtless man wrestles with the knots in his hair in the mirror. He looks serious like he’s trying to intimidate the knots with his mean mug. In the bathroom there’s no hot or cold water options—just one spigot with a button. When I press it it wiggles—it’s barely attached. Smells so much like chlorine and piss here I taste it. Rotten greasy duct tape covers up wall holes. Guy here visiting from Mexico says the bathrooms are so sad like ugh this is really bad but you know what I won’t cry because this is not my problem this is the government’s problem and if they can’t fix it they’ll have no clients. No clients no food—then how will you survive?
Middle aged man with four pack sprinkled donuts and multiple head accessories (backwards cap red bandanna green shades) sucks long and deep from a two liter bottle of pepsi, talks quick pulsating talk full of breath, itches arms sporadically ferociously. The clothes he wears are clothes that people much younger than him would wear. Guy wears a bright white belt with the word FUCK in large gold letters on the buckle. Guy quick walks round screaming in his cell phone wearing an undershirt with brown stains on it. Where the fuck she went? Where the fuck she went? There’s a child wailing like a siren but with sand paper in it. I can’t even find this fucking woman.
People’s necks look exhausted. I’m going there and she might not even be there. Necks pulling bags up. She so shady. Bags pulling necks down. She might not even be there. Stretching and straining. She might just be messaging me. People here today seem solemn and serious like riding the bus is a sacred terrifying duty. But I have to go there. They look like they’re tired of having faces. It’s not gonna kill me. They look like their cheek muscles are tired of holding up their faces and their chins and foreheads are exhausted.
That be the devil, says a man who points a curled finger at me, smiles. Mysterious puddle with broken glass and scrunched up soaking wet paper towels in it like someone tried to clean it up but got distracted. There’s benches sparsely populated here with tired people who can’t lay down and Greyhound tortures these people. Metal beams bracket up the benches into sections so people can sit but not lay and Greyhound could take these beams away but they don’t.
Walmart Supercenter, 261 Cooper Creek Dr., Mocksville NC 27028
Stop! He says as he pulls his son’s ear. He squeezes his son’s ear. His son’s neck and head twist sideways, contorting and dragging. You don’t listen. His son’s ear turns redder and redder. Voted North Carolina’s low price leader. Smooth jazz that thinks it’s sexy but isn’t forms a subtle background. Kid yelling like a siren makes my eardrum feel like it’s stretching. Columns of light on the floor reflecting up splashing gentle fuzzy shine with scuff marks on the floor. Fresh smell but also slightly off air like if I breathe too hard it will hurt a little. I’d never bought anything from Walmart before today. But Caleb Beckwith got me thinking maybe these poems would work better if I explored my complicity more. Eh eh eh, stay behind Daddy. So today I bought a cliff bar? American flags at the end of every aisle. My family was upper middle class growing up. Surrounded by pastel yellow and blue walls. We didn’t fuck with Walmart. Cats on the cat food containers look desirous, ravenous, possibly fucked up on catnip. It was a point of pride, not fucking with Walmart, and now I feel shame that it was a point of pride that we didn’t fuck with Walmart. Hey should we get catnip Mom? Then she’ll go crazy. Then she’ll play with us all the time. Display case of twenty one rifles with one pink one. I guess that one’s mostly marketed to women.
Celebrate section. Toy section. Hey look I got my head stuck. Meat section. Hey look. Smellcome to manhood. Logan, no. We have stuff to do. As seen on TV section. Do you want to go to the birthday or not? Now Logan. Stay. Come on Logan. Workers here move slowly. Stay. Come on pal we’ve got stuff to do. I don’t know who you’re talking to like that. We’re gonna go down the aisle but I need you here first. Older guy with his american flag shirt looks at me and nods down firmly and quickly to say hi like he approves of me.
San Ysidro Point of Entry and Colonia Libertad—the border of
San Diego and Tijuana, 92173 and 22400
I can’t see the wind. I can’t see the line. But I can feel the wind. And I can feel the line. And I can see how the invisible wind and the invisible line move matter. The wind moves objects. The line moves cops. The wind can cross the line quickly but I can’t. The cops can cross the line quickly but I can’t. The line is made with imagination.
I feel scared. Here smells like a fire. Your conversations and actions are being recorded. Federal property. No smuggling, no assaulting officers, no photography, no loitering. Might as well just say no fun. I can drink water on one side of this line but I can’t drink water on the other unless I buy a bottle. A man says Hey can you help a brother out?, I just got deported. If he crosses the line I just crossed he’ll get kidnapped. The people who will kidnap him will probably wear uniforms. They’ll probably look very professional.
Mexican people sit and rest on the ground right across the line—some with missing limbs. They try to sell little candies as it looks like they force smiles and the smiles hurt their faces. Nearby walking from the USA side I see a woman whose shirt reads fiesta like there’s no mañana. She doesn’t look at the people on the floor. They are not part of the fiesta.
Most people crossing look all around but not at each other. They wait with annoyance and determination like they walk with annoyance and determination. If they do look at each other they look away quick. Three trees and a little bit of trash in a marked off area that you’re not allowed to go to. Cops keep looking at IDs then faces, IDs then faces, over and over—the former more important than the latter.
The smooth hard floor has lots of little pieces of trash like bits of candy wrappers. People here look bored and worried about being bored. Group of USA tourists cut in front of lots of people waiting. Any line I can skip, I skip! one says. A Mexican woman yells Get in line people! We are all waiting! but the cops just shoo the USA folks through. Then one of the folks says Damn right I skipped!
I stand to the side of the cop’s desk. He asks me to move over to face the desk directly. It is important that my body’s in exactly the right spot. Bringing anything back from Mexico? I say just some cough drops. Then he looks at me suspicious. I say Halls, Halls cough drops. He sighs and says ok just go like he’s bummed our interaction wasn't more exciting. I see a billboard as I cross back to the USA. It says you and over eight million people see this sign yearly—call to advertise.
Zack Haber is a poet and a journalist who lives in West Oakland. They’re the author of the chapbook if you want to be one them playing in the streets (Quiet Lightning/Tiny Splendor. 2014). They write regularly for The Oakland Post about homelessness and housing. Their work has also appeared in DataBleed Zine, Sierra Nevada Review, Entropy, Teen Vogue and other places. Their website is noopposite.com.