about the author

Al Maginnes’s most recent book The Next Place came out in 2017 with Iris Press. New poems are appearing or forthcoming in Natural Bridge, Shenandoah, North American Review, and other places. He is music editor of Connotation Press and lives in Raleigh, NC, where he teaches at Wake Technical Community College.

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One Poem  

Al Maginnes

One Trouble With Stories

The biggest house in town and we were the lucky
sons of bitches building it. “Someday you’ll show this place
to your kids and tell them you built it,” the owner told us.

He loved to sit in the shade and watch us, a folder of papers
ignored on his lap. After a while, the drinks he mixed from
the cooler in his trunk kicked in and he would talk

to anyone not busy enough to fend him off. Redwood planks
for the flooring, cut to order, were coming from California.
Marble countertops from Italy. He was going to dig a pool

big enough to float a ship. He pointed where it would go
though his finger found a new location every afternoon.
Comeuppance for all the bastards in this town who tried

to make sure he would never have a pot to piss in. He waved
as if erasing the just-visible rooftops of the town
most of us called home, who came up the hill each morning

carrying Cokes, coffee, hangovers, the weight of the hours
waiting for us. Once he moved in, he said, he would
walk out the front door every morning—the door that was

already delivered, waiting in the trailer with everything else
it wasn’t time to install yet—and he’d look at that town
full of assholes and sons of bitches and he’d take a leak

and, by God, hope they could see him. We framed the walls,
tacked up sheathing, hammered plywood for the roof when
he retreated again to the shade or took a drive down the hill

into that town of tightwad bastards. Plumbers and electricians
arrived to flesh out this multi-storied monument to
one man’s skill at holding a grudge. He was in Reno, went

the story I heard more than once, down to his last couple of dollars,
and he dropped a token in a slot machine. It spit out
a jackpot, enough for a seat at the pocker table, and by dawn,

he was as rich as he’d ever been. He used the winnings
to build a business—none of us was sure what the business was—
and came back home to get even richer. “Trust your luck.”

He raised his cup in a toast to his own luck. For us, luck
was a job that would last long enough to collect unemployment
through the winter. What we had after the check was cashed

barely paid for a few drinks, much less a night in a casino,
even if one could be uncovered in our Bible-belted state.
The windows were being installed, including a stained-glass

fantasia ornate enough for any cathedral, when
four black sedans rolled up the lane. Men in dark suits
put the owner in back of a car and left as silently as they’d come.

We looked around, wondering what we should do.
The next day we were sent to another job. The owner never
came back as far as we knew. Windows got broken out,

the door kicked askew. I went there once, before it turned
to a complete ruin, one more unfinished thing in a world of
unfinished things.
                           And that is why I can tell you

it was not a house we built but an apartment complex.
And the one the cops came for was no home owner
but a foul-mouthed kid from Texas, his face scorched

from the sun. Two city cops carried him off,
not for pickpocketing bank accounts but for armed robbery,
assault, breaking and entering, the roster

of small caliber crimes. Twelve people watched it happen
and by quitting time, each one had repeated the story, changing it
a shade with each telling. Because, finally, facts matter less than

what you believe as you stand inside the story, waiting to tell it.

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