Atlantic City, Not A Place

Atlantic City, not a place but the fragment
Of a memory that lights up bright and garish
In the starless night when day is done
When ragged dreams arise from murky beds
Beneath the waves washing up like seaweed
On the shore and orphaned spirits of the drowned
With the scent of frothy combers in their hair
Float up to stroll again among the litter
Of abandoned cotton candy cones, soda cups
And toppled drunks heaped against the iron
Lampposts lined along the boardwalk
Where they slumber long and limply
In the afterglow of beer and bootleg whiskey
Evening breathes its warm damp breath
On dripping ice cream sandwiches
Languishing in sweetly sodden pools
At the feet of the needy dirty kneed
Their salty tear streaked faces
Pallid and forlorn, red and blue balloons
Escaping from their grip
Their fathers joined the Navy and sailed away
To native girls and palm trees far from home
And mothers disappeared in thin air without a trace
From smoky nightclubs when the music stopped
And the cigarettes and neon lights went out
We stayed all night, my mom and I
Until the morning tones of gray thickened on our lashes
We watched the tide come laden with debris
Destroying sandy kingdoms come and gone
She smiled and took me by the hand to ride the cyclone
Up and down a twisting corkscrew
Rumbling through the rush and roar of weightless space
Until my head and stomach tied in knots
And then she paid the man to go a second round
Before she left me stranded there
Among the other child-souls wandering
Through that weathered wonderland
Oh, she was so young and fearless then
As shapely as a movie star
Her lips were red, her eyebrows arched and tapered
Her skin unmarred and perfectly enfolding her within
I hid my face beneath her arm
And felt the tensing of her body
As the whirlwind sped us onward
To a destiny we did not choose
Thrilling her with girlish squeals and screams of laughter
And me a voiceless sack of peanut shells
Eyes shut tight as tight as I could squeeze them
But I was just a kid and yet by instinct knew
We should not go that way – I begged her not to
But no, she wouldn’t listen and when the ride was done
And she was gone, I stood there
Like a speck of dust in a hall of mirrors

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Bill Peeler

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My wife, Noy and I are Protestant missionaries in Cambodia. We met in a border refugee camp in Thailand back in 1979 while I was a refugee relief worker. She was a refugee. I lived and worked in Mairut Refugee Camp for three years. We have three grown kids. I was drafted into the Army in 1969, served in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971 and honorably discharged at the end of my military obligation. Writing prose and poetry is how I document the life I'm living and how I map out the mental landscape inside my head.
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3 Comments on "Atlantic City, Not A Place"

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Oh Bill such a painful and vivid poem. Very sad but true for many a soul.


Ah I see the depth in your poem now. But many a young kid is left so by mothers not so good as your own.
Mohamad Ali once said, we are not true adults until are parents are gone. Great man, great boxer and true words.


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