Bruised Breath

 

Still I’m not used to these days where the sun can’t even lift

her head above the blanket of clouds

’cause where I come from

storms don’t last long

even tornadoes are come and gone quick

like a hit and run fleeing the scene before

the red light’s even turned green

leaving the wreckage behind

like the bruised purple green and gold

on her face after he leaves, the black eye

she got by accident–or so she

told the story

 

It was no accident,

what happened there, no natural disaster;

we’d been warned what would happen after

the big one hit and the water rose

they did nothing, though

and the storm passed

and the eye of the hurricane looked down and saw

people perching like pigeons on rooftops or

waving white sheets like wings to carry them up

to the helicopters—if only

Icarus hadn’t died in the water

if only we had wings here, instead of in the hereafter

and long after the winds had faded and rain dried

on skin, the shadow of death

loomed over the valley of that city

a bruise too big to hide, still tender

after the rest of the body

had forgot

about the terror

 

I’m still not used to this ache

between my shoulders

where my wings once sprouted, I’m not

used to eyes clouded

by cataracts of hate

like waterfalls spilling from the sky’s

black eye to the pavement

flooding attics as if

they was basements

I’m not used to asking for help

prefer cursing to praying for charity, grace, mercy

like the names folks used to give girls

back when they were likely to die

in childbirth or fever, or before their first kiss—see

I know too much history, it weighs me down

sinks me to the bottom

the way Icarus’s wings drowned him

and all I can see looking up

is clouds brooding overhead

bruising the sun’s face and cutting

her gold light to shreds—maybe if I wave my white feathers

they’ll come down and beat me up

instead

 

Maybe if I keep quiet

won’t nobody hear my heart pounding

with dread

thump—see the lightning flash

thump—count the seconds passed

thump—between light and thunder

thump—between alive and going under

thump—then divide by your breath, what’s left of it

one mississippi

two mississippi

three mississippi

 

Wait

can you hear it

the wind is rising again

Every time you exhale

a tree grows another leaf

The minerals in your bones

came from oceans that long ago

washed upon distant shores

There is a dinosaur inside

of every bird, even

the scruffiest pigeon pecking

bus station crumbs

And when a fern unfurls

its revelation of a green spiral head, so

unwinds a million years of living

history, encoded in the only language

this whole planet shares, in bonds

that break and reform

like waves break upon the beach

pulling back only to ready

for another leap

like your shoulder-blades pulling back

as you draw in a deep breath

let it go

and spread out your wings

vestigial or real

for that next jump

Down there it’s not winter, not ever really

Grass grows tall instead of snowbanks

and there I am walking with you

on a sidewalk made of

stones that have witnessed

decades more of heartbreak than I’ve tasted

and they still stand, polished by water and baptized

by piss but yet

unbroken

There we are walking

holding hands like lovers do, and me barely

able to keep the grin tied down on my

sunwarmed face, keep my feet attached

to the ground because you

you filled me up and then let me go

a careless child watching

her balloon drifting away, she didn’t

know how to hold it

And there I am walking

alone but still knowing

the feel of these stones by heart, by sure footstep

.

Here I am in winter

no sunlight to warm me, nor you

Wanna float away from all this

my helium-stretched heart expanding in my ribcage

Wanna remember

but there’s too much space

between my fingertips stretched and

the top shelf I put those memories on

so they wouldn’t break

so they’d stay safe until

I needed them, took them down to touch

the rock I picked up at that beach

where we kissed

.

Now it’s winter and

I can’t reach the sun, won’t return my calls

but I found a broken lamp on

the sidewalk, fixed it up

found a fence to climb up and watch

the parades from

Now we are walking, she and I

holding hands like balloon strings on a windy day

in this winter city

and you’re not there, not really

dance now as the sun sets over

a shroud of fog, for

we are already dead

these bodies merely flesh memories

cloth and hide hanging on skeletons

like shadows, like the standing

sunbleached men in their

cornfields, where birds

and buffalo used to feed freely

dance with me now

in the warm ashes of a fire big enough

to consume us all

sweet-smelling of grass and rot

we are become demons

wind carries us faster than

any arrow, to the homes and camps

of our enemy, and we

cannot be caught

though the body may perish

though bullets shatter living bone

though we die like crows

broken, limbs still flapping

spirits now, we cannot be destroyed

or conquered so easily

we will dance light-footed on their

grandchildren’s graves.

This is even better than that trip to Vegas

with your frat brothers–here they’ve got casinos

too, and you

You’re blowing all your cash in one go

got a daiquiri in one hand

hand grenade in the other

You feel like a cool motherfucker

despite the humid heat slicking

your skin

Got white powdered sugar round your mouth

and down the line of her back

dress unzipped, you bent her

into a crescent–you ain’t got the spine

for that yourself–

you used her, your plaything

feed money in like a slot machine ching!

and pull the lever; you

jack off tonight to bright lights and peepshows ’cause

tomorrow you’ll leave her

today you’re James fucking Bond

tomorrow you’re Ward Cleaver

But when morning comes you’ll wake

with tongue swollen

like canals drunk on storm surge,

your head drumming like a jazz funeral

the second line beat of a dirge

that comes from fists pounding through attic roofs,

from Congo Square drums

waves against the hulls of black ships

crammed with molasses and rum on the way

back from this shore

.

Tonight she’s your lover in diamonds shinin

tomorrow a cubic zirconium whore

You’ll pray forgiveness for your sins, barter

with the father for ten hail Mary’s

to one Magdalene–the lady you used up

and left, on the riverbank, for someone to carry

home and fix up again.

.

Meet me at the border.

There where little girls use

yellow crime scene tape to play jump-rope

where moms learn the ropes of food stamps,

jump though the hoops

of social security; where their boys

play hoops and shoot from three-point-crown-lines

and insecurity tapes record the noiseless scenes

of convenience stores at nighttime

better not make a scene or you’ll lose

loose your rope or you’ll make a crime scene

zip code encoding your chances of survival

as you take your last breath

(wheezing from the asthma)

take your chance and let feet jump at the end

of your rope, pray you’ll sink

This is the valley of the shadow of death and

we are right on the brink.

Meet me at the border.

Meet me at the edge of your neighborhood

and mine, that thin red line where angels fear to tread

and latin kings quick-draw the line between the quick and the dead

with 9-millimeter lead pencils

Meet me there and we’ll stencil

a new border, sketch with incense and dreamcatchers

zig-zag the edges til the marginalized

becomes the center and we’ll devise

a whole new urban legend to match

this map of yours and mine.

this morning I wake to jackhammer birdsong

and the smell of burnt rubber and coal

the street near my home narrows, then cracks

into a patchwork of turtlebacked pavement

scales of asphalt layer like skin under

a magnifying glass with

tar-colored scabs where the patches

don’t quite fit

in the summer, birds and mosquitoes

divebomb the water where potholes pucker

in the winter, frost traces the fissures

(split by temperature, and ice)

like ashy skin on an elbow

.

this month they’re resurfacing

ripping up layers with a huge metal-toothed comb

shredding the surface til it’s

a danger to feet and bike wheels, revealing

what lies beneath: gravel and sand

blackened as soot, a metal grate

brick cobbles, a squashed aluminum can

two more layers of asphalt

this city likes to cover its history up

spackling bullet holes, filling in marshes

taping together broken laws

tearing down burned buildings, concrete masses

leaving only weeds and parking meters along blocks

where homes used to be

.

this year they’re fixing roads

calling it recovery

but what the city covers still

remains, a scar gone deep beneath

shining new skin

a story silently sleeping, waiting

for the next winter to pass and spring to

melt away pavement like ice

waiting

for us to leave

and weeds to spring up, crack

gravel skin and metal bones

spread seeds where we used to

patchwork roads, where we covered the city’s body

with a shroud stitched of smoke.