THE RECORD SCRATCH October 6, 2023

Scenes from a Dive Bar

after “Cool About It” by boygenius

Cowboys in the corner drinking Busch on tap.
You aim your cue and snicker
at the ink-blot disaster on the big one’s neck,
his veins bulging with alcohol. I try to drown
the melody of your laughter in the clinking
of the pool balls on the table.
“How’s work?”
          “It’s work.”
“How’s school going?”
          “It’s going.”
I don’t know why I came here.
No exit, forcing myself to breathe and sip
on lukewarm beer. You smile like you used to
when you loved me. This is not a kindness;
I wish you would have hurt me when you had the chance.

Sweat beading down my back, we move like strangers
to a booth in the corner. I hold your absolution in my pocket,
ready to lay out on the table when you ask.
“So, about everything—”
          “Don’t worry about it. No regrets.”
Big Cowboy chortles at the bar like God
examining my best-laid plan. Swallow my anger
with another swig, tell myself the sourness
is just the hops. I let you do the talking
while my mind finds another path to wander, knowing
that every single one leads back to you.

Outside, the night spits out the moon like a nasty pill.
Same creamy color as your medication, the one
I once took to know you. I know you
too well now and have nowhere to put it.
“Let me walk you home.”
You only live four blocks from here.
“How are you doing?”
          “Really good, actually.”
“That’s really nice to hear.”
Two smiles between us, crooked, a slip
of our masks between our teeth.
If this is all of you I’ll ever have, let’s not talk
about it. Don’t tell me that you hope
I’m healing, and I’ll pretend like I can’t hear
the sloshing of saltwater in my lungs.
I promise, I can play the part.

Michelle Ott is an emerging writer from the mid-Atlantic. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from American University in 2023, and her work has previously been featured in Black Fox Literary MagazineImpostor: A Poetry Journal, and others. She currently lives in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter @ChelleBelle825, on Instagram @chellexlouise_, or on her website at