Dead Leaves and Tennis Shoes
Swarming flies is cold
on the page. I’m not sleeping
well. I’ve had girl-monkey dreams. Turn
to yell, “locked in trains”
and an animatronic angel
is taking dollars for photos. His wings
are lived in. “Eating ashes —
the cremation —
to spite a smile”
a homeless man yells rain runs ink
my train of thought
buying a happy Hell.
I keep cupid in a formaldehyde jar on the table in front of me. This, the same shade of
water as the shawls of three women waiting for the bus. The sound of diesel engines and
espresso machines a desperate white noise to flamenco riffs from a free air gym the
Samoan kids at the youth center use after school. Now and again, a bicyclist, a girl in a
thrift store sun dress or some combination of the two, pass in the late afternoon, in that
hour when the sun is a bruise on the horizon.
New Orleans. Poor folk walking
the knee-deep streets
as governors and governments
finger-paint on the national canvas.
No food. No water. Children.
Dead leaves, caramelized
and ringed in Olmec. Half
a coconut in a cupboard nailed
to green. A maroon
star dripping white along the edges.
never sets in Ohio.” I think
Frank O’Hara said that. Someone:
the chalkboard is bleeding blue
brunch and hot sandwiches.
A boy in a trucker hat sporting an eighty dollar punk rock tank top is glaring at me. He’s
jealous of my coffee or sideburns or something. The older couple at the table next to me
are talking at each other. The husband is yelling about Faulkner and drinking, the wife
mumbles something about pork chops and Groucho Marx. I heard on NPR today that
more people die each year of suicide than of war and murder combined. People talk,
stare, drink. Coffee is poured, shoes worn out. My mother is three thousand miles away
waiting for the results of her CAT scan. We’re both thinking about snow.
A homeless man to himself:
“I can’t help
“He’s five foot ten,” Andy said, “but he composes verse like a man of at least six foot
three.” As poetry approaches the speed of light, time, relative to the poem, remains the
same but those tagged black walls are brickstrong and what’s a man to do after his sixth
bottle of beer blonde spilt over old Slayer t-shirts. This is when denim skirts go horribly
Drinking coffee and considering
Ted Berrigan. Her skin like the water table
in northern California, hair
spilling brown from a glacier
over rocks, over curves
like Colonial era train tracks. Nabakov
for a toothpick and eyes
a sunset over a wave of ashes.
A woman lives underneath the Cesar Chavez overpass in a homeless encampment
between the Mission and the warehouse district. Every day she sweeps the sidewalks
clean in her three block area, brushing glass and garbage with hands frail as the
broomstick they clutch. Some mornings city workers ask her to clear out so they can do
routine maintenance. Some mornings she trades coffee for haircuts, mostly from one
man with a large afro gone white with age, or from two braided men who strip found
bicycles and haul heaping carts back and forth from the recycling center.
“I wish I were skinny”
“You are sk–”
A bad morning, an “I woke up to find my cat dead and the Sox down 3-0 to the Yanks”
morning. Pluck – twang. Old Irish having at it like sea farers, like nose rings going
downhill in the fog at twenty five miles per hour. “Heraclitus, he was sort of a
preSocratic string theorist.” Braided hair. Banjo. A plastic pumpkin suspended twelve
feet above the crowd on a fishing pole. Pine needles shift and shudder to the piano keys.
“I used to, well, but now I’m sitting on old chipped blue bleachers, inside the sounds of
cold and coffee.” Neutral colors.
Justin heard me out, threaded a string
through the old gods. Cars
passing by on the left. “What are you
reading?” Telephone. Misengraved
myself. Hands plugged directly
into wall sockets;
they can’t clap
under their own power.
“I love bad puns Katie,” I shout through the bathroom door. Fourth floor salon window,
smell of bleach gone lavender and white wine. Critical mass. Cops on motorcycles.
Chain grease. Hollering. “I knooowwww Patrick,” she shouts through mirror.
Skeletons in top hats dance in that blue stuff all barber shops have, the stuff I used to
think was my uncle’s secret stash of blue raspberry jello.
There are days when I,
the underside of an unfinished coffee
table, the corner of a red window
in the light is three shades
of brown. As I walked into the street to pass
a group of police officers blocking off the sidewalk
I heard a girl ask,
“Mommy, were there five shots or just one?”
Everything today smells like pasta fagiole. My father’s fifty-and-over softball team just
won their second league championship. Mom used to say, “Well, it just goes to show
ya.” After thinking about it, yeah.
on the fifth floor
has been shouting threats
They have nets
to catch him.
I don’t want to go that way,
the crowds and all
but it might be nice
“Consider how they interpret the Book of Revelations in Latin America.” The western
sky is offering a pasta strainer of constellations to us and our water-dish mouths, our
pass/fail Nostradamus of a war effort. We have mapped out our failures in flares driven
into the black painted ceiling of prophecy and public address. The President told us we
have won the war. Months later he told us we are winning the war. Months later he told
us we will win the war. Months later he told us we must stay the course. Men and
women both, in provided suits stamping damp white letters across Old Glory. The water.
All around us. The stairs simply disappear into it.