In a city awake on tea and subtitles,
the freshman boys fight off sleep
to hear a bluesman sing at the corner club,
his foot tapping and hoarse voice wailing
about fleeing the river hounds; and all the faces
look warm and dry here, the Lost Boys of Sudan
sheltered behind glass and glowing
on the art-house cinema, the neon sign
of the conquistador blinking over the nightclub
with his rifle drawn (the children of the Aztecs
on the sidewalk below seeking wristbands cool
in their pressed silk collars) — here the bus shakes
to a stop every hour, the doors snapping open
and the couples pass (consummated)
through ocean breeze and the crash of the fountain
in search of a drink — the girls in mascara
who glint like fireflies in the yellow lamps,
the one who breaks from the line at the tavern
and ducks into the gallery, past
the corner magician and the swirling eyes
of new babies, stands wet by the glare
of the bootleggers brutal and handsome under
their shaded brims in a portrait
in the hall, the newspapers cheering New Deal
and the trays of Cabernet in back (a finger
polished red half sober texting
about free food, gallery show, what time
do u get off wk) -- the kisses stolen
over floodlights and the donation box
overflowing by ten, the eyes of migrants
that lust from photographs, the cards telling stories
of when this town was dust, when everyone was hungry.
In a coffee shop by the docks, Norah Jones
is singing on a portable radio. No one listens.
The owner boils water and hands a rag
to the girl with the stutter — who doesn't work there —
and lets her wipe down the tables. They half-listen
as the rain drizzles and the man at the counter
rambles about the garage, though he doesn't work there
anymore, and how he stopped believing in God
when the Red Sox went all the way. The counter
fills with men from the shelter. Another lost morning,
the owner mutters, then swallows, thanks God
for the usual blessings: softcore and cigarettes,
the same beaten crowd that comes every morning
and spends what it has to spend. The girl
finishes the tables now, shakes the ends of cigarettes
out of the ashtrays. The foreman saunters in
with his newspaper wet, hands his coat to the girl
(who hangs it on the rack, glad to be of use)
and slumps by the radio. The voice saunters in
over bass and piano, a cool note of blue
as thunder roars outside. Keen to be of use,
he orders coffee around, turns the radio up high
and beckons the girl to dance. Her blue
dress scatters dust as he twirls her shape
by the clouds on the window, the notes surging high
and the voice cracking through static, Norah Jones
ravaged and beautiful like all of them. By the shape
of the docks under rain, they dance happy in rags.
published in Current Accounts (Bolton, UK)
LIKE A CATHEDRAL
Like a cathedral,
she is stone and echo,
warm sanctuary for the hands and mouth
with wooden angels in the corners
She and I slip in, drop our coins
in the battered collection plate on the table.
The pews are empty.
We are country travelers,
our shoes torn from stepping on brambles
and the rocks on the path outside.
I brush my mouth across her
and kiss the markers of saints,
the forgotten, stillborn.
Each brick an eternity.
The doors in back fade into corridors,
darkened by centuries, sculpted by hands.
Set every candle on the altar burning.
Churn the water in the baptism tub.
Her face is stained glass and rusted jewels.
we ransack for treasure,
sleep abundant on the dust of tombs.