Dad, staring stiff-necked into the forlorn
radius of headlight beams on empty two-lane,
drives the family of five, weary and taciturn,
through dinnerless darkness toward paradise:
lakeside cottage rented for a week.

But now they seek shelter for one night,
way station on their summer pilgrimage.
The reservation made, they strain to find
The Hart Motel, which now seems unlikely
as a palace in the flat agrarian landscape.

The youngest child, forehead pressed against
her ghostly face mirrored in the car window,
murmurs, “Hart’s. Hart’s. Hart’s,” in dull refrain,
believing in some sort of synchronicity
like prayer: words deliver, make things appear

and disappear (abracadabra, after all)—
until the eldest sister snaps, “Stop it!”
Then, the cinderblock haven, surrounded by corn.
The nearest stalks warm drooping leaves
in red neon glow: HART MOTEL—VACANCY.

In the room at last, time to commemorate:
Dad tipped back in a wire chair, mesmerized
by the reprieve of baseball (perhaps) on a TV
just beyond the snapshot’s square white border;
two older ponytailed girls, perched

on the edge of a twin bed,
clamped-together knees angled coyly
below bermuda shorts, beside them
a pair of purses like little picnic baskets;
and in the foreground,

the youngest sister slumped, frowning,
as if something is amiss, as if on the verge
of vast disappointment, as if
some disaster could arrive,
delivered in a blink, in a snap.

Never a complete picture:
there’s always one unseen,
one who holds the camera.
Someone missing. The first loss.

Jeanne Julian’s chapbook is Blossom and Loss (Longleaf Press). Prairie Wolf Press Review, Poetry Quarterly, Lascaux Prize 2016 Anthology, Kakalak, and other journals have published her poetry, which also has won awards sponsored by The Comstock Review, Naugatuck River Review, The North Carolina Poetry Society, and the Asheville Writers’ Workshop.