Reaching to the Horizon ☊
I hated you Legless Billy,
and the way your prairie family
and fiancée looked at me,
that flat stillness of the plains
reaching to the horizon from
every window and across
the dining room table, when
I described how you saved my life.
We all hated you, Billy,
sitting there in your gleaming
wheelchair and spotted bib.
It's only now, in midnight
calls from mid-life that I hear
in your voice how we are
bound to that screaming red flare
lighting all we will never again own.
Haggard hansom cab horses line Decatur Street.
Even in beads and bon vivant chapeaus,
their sad muscles and muzzles know
more solitude than pageantry.
Their dull, pyramid ears poke from holes
and pick brass and paddle boat horns out
of Jackson Square and the Mississippi River.
They do both their toil and rest at a stand,
and walk and shit the color-fest streets. New ....Orleans
is a good place to eat and listen and learn to forget
yourself, or something you’ve left. A good place
to party, visit or remake a life, if you’re not a horse
standing in the rain, still as a man posing
like a derby-hatted silver statue,
silver trumpet touching silver lips and tourists
watching and waiting for a man to turn back into a ....man.
The Drowned River
North along this river, before my birth,
Troy fell to the one-piece shirt,
a wooden horse that crossed the Collar
City Bridge and left working
men idle up to their necks.
Sons of closed factories and once proud
makers now have no notion of the all day
roar of men and machines making useful
things of fealty and sweat, nor the open lunch
boxes and cigarettes of loading docks at noon.
They know broken bottles and windows.
They know shop floors slopped in pigeon
industry: filth and coos and nests in rusted rafters.
They know fenced in mountains of garbage
and padlocked parking lots pocked with absence.
Coal-fired plants once collared this city
in a contiguous black belch and coughing
prosperity. Now, their cold shadows float
on the river the way dead fish might appear
to a floundering hungry man.
And that river, that even now fails
to be a river – confused by salt as far
north as Troy and fjord-ways downstate –
moves like a man put out of his occupation
and at a loss for which way to turn from day to day.
Algonquin, Iroquis and Lenape called it
Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk, river that flows both ways.
Geologists say drowned river. And all along
its shores, by any name, tribes have fallen
as silent as whistles that once herded men to work.
And where smoke once plumed from long houses
and the making of dugout canoes, where spirits
and sacred chants rose out of tribal Salamanca like sap
in trees rising toward spring, now, there are only
repetitions from the casinos’ neon rosary: Ka-ching! Ka-ching!
And there are lines being drawn: to preserve
the gifted land or to quarry and mine.
And every day, more jobless towns bank the river,
more estuaries of poverty spawn, seep inland and down
from mountains crowned with gardens of Eden.
South of those battle lines – which by air, earth
water and breath are mine – I navigate the crowded
tides of work and love in the empire state
called my life, and the river that is not opens its mouth
and speaks in the tongues and voices of gulls, foghorns
and dreams, and fashions jeweled confusions
of night-windows and moon, as we continue to fail.
The river’s addled tides beckon, and the world comes
to see this city afloat on the drowned Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk --
one vision of the world afloat in the tear of another.
Quiet the Way
It is a meditation;
to stand on a corner, when it’s late
and quiet, the way only a city can be
quiet, when Saturday night’s vision
fades and Sunday sights an empty cab
to hail, where streetlight pools
and baptizes anyone in its pale steeple.
Listen and you can hear traffic
lights change, though there’s no traffic
either way, except maybe a bus,
transmuted into a moving confessional,
with only one passenger, telling more
than the driver wants to hear
and nothing he doesn’t already know.
Lost and Found Poetry
After watching the documentary about a poetry festival,
a student noticed the book on my desk, bearing the same title.
“Are all the poets from the movie, in it?” she asked, picking it up.
“More,” I said. “Would you like to read it? Take it.”
Quick as those two words, her eyes widened. She placed one hand
on top of the book, as if swearing an oath. Her smile broadened
to her eyes, until I finished my thought. “Give it back to me
after the holiday.”
If the shades had been suddenly drawn and the lights turned off,
the room could not be more absent light than her face,
and I felt I was holding something broken
when she handed the book back.