“This is a beautiful place,”
said Wally, our resident alien,
the poet of Wild West and train robberies,
who left his son’s wake early
to come to our poetry reading.
We sat there speechless
for more than a beat,
then began scrambling in our bags
for whatever poems we had
that might bridge such strangeness.
Wally never missed a night.
Tonight he was late and glassy eyed
and sat there, saying,
“I just want to listen.”
“This is a beautiful place.”
An art gallery in a community building.
A circle of steel chairs.
Daffodils on the walls.
Stained carpet underfoot.
We called the reading “Speak”
and we did, twice a month, no standing,
no stage, a round robin of poets
going three rounds on a theme
all of us had suddenly forgotten.
“This is a beautiful place.” We learned
that his son had hanged himself.
Wally was glassy eyed and listening.
We forgot the theme. We scrambled.
We sat there. We tried to bridge the strangeness.
A guy in mid-limbo. He’s poker chip thin,
a rejected toothpick. A sapling, really, full of those fruit,
the ones in the song. A swamp full of teeth, dams broken,
shirt worn inside out in haste, shoes tied loose-bowed.
A sassy fire in a clearing on the riverbank.
A woman not quite girl anymore. A class-aware
stumbling block. Her hair’s cinnamon and brass,
a rebellion. A murmur of sticks and speeding.
A woman’s baby rolling home. It’s not yet
a button. A corrugation in a stellar bridge.
A missed apprehension. A face darklit, shadowed fur,
a broken comb. A broken cloth. A break.
Dog them early while the scent of their sulfur builds.
Maze the rules you make them play by until loopholes become jaws.
Stack them where they belong till God approves of the height of the pile.
Open their prison doors and pour on lingering fame.
Approve their paroles with a voice of long chains.
Denounce them at the whiff of impure thought.
Relegate their romances to the dustbin of hysteria.
Imagine their lifestyles as moldy bread.
Bite mincing mouthfuls from them till they spit back.
Reject their strapping response to infractions.
Blow them rat kisses.
Darken their doorsteps.
Assume their compulsion if you have it not.
Burn their books.
Remove them from their lands.
Speak of universal love only when they aren’t there to hear.
Steal their women for a cabaret of night monkey wars.
Splay their men’s genitals upon a flea market blanket.
Drown their children in salt.
Rend their garments.
Bruise their heels.
Bivouac where they pray.
Infiltrate them when they make their own worlds.
Revise their demigods.
Give them names to conceal the names with which they were born.
Carry a sponge to sop their servant blood from your white loins.
Blacken their teeth until yours are moonlike in comparison.
Honor them with caricatures while you shred their portraits.
Play their music in your nurseries.
Wear their feathered robes while you drop their bastardized secrets on the tiles of your temple.
Cut off their water.
Tell them the righteous can live on dew alone.
Suck their grass dry and watch the edges get crisp in the bright daylight you have made from their smiles.
Let your mercy rain down upon them as a mighty river.
It cannot be done
without the proper language;
without the vanes,
the dart cannot strike home.
It cannot be perfect,
must hold a flaw, must fray
The heart of it
must beat insanely fast
even as its hand is steady.
There shall be a moment of damage
in its center.
A diamond bird in flight
shall see it, fall upon it,
All around it, the sex of ghosts,
and crudely painted jugs holding rain
that was caught in a desert
Now, there’s nothing to do
but drink and live.