August 2009


there is a telltale heart beating

a syrupy-slow blues rhythm

under the wooden slats of this porch

gone splintery and grey as Spanish moss

from the sun and rain; touch carefully

the boards that rot

sickly sweet as wounds, this is

a dying living thing

pulse vanishing beneath the skin of vines

and do not tread too heavy

you might shatter a bone

there is no mystery to this soon-to-be-corpse of

a building, no

chalk outline except for spray-painted numbers

there is nothing to unravel

(the wind is doing a pretty good job of that already)

here lie the remains of your inattention


and don’t forget



He asked me

if there were any paintings of black people in the museum.

There’s plenty of white men and cowboys and Indians,

he said, but what

about us?

They were from New Orleans,

unwilling exiles from a flooded home.

I’m too old for this, he sighed.


with a wife and wide-eyed grandson to support,

and a slow stride.  I grew up

in the Ninth Ward, he told me.  Shook

his head as he started to walk

away.  But it’s gone now, nothing

for me to go back to.

Summertime in Louisiana, you can’t hear yourself think

for all the din the bugs are making.  Insect-inside your brain,

cicadas buzzing that rising and falling strain like they never

get enough of it, like kids trying to out-scream each other

walking under the overpass and echoing tiny voices

to sound much bigger than themselves. Put ’em all together,

all the noises of cricket and hornet and frog, and you get a

daily racket that don’t even quit when the sun sets.  You’d think

they would grow tired, lose their voices, but this anthropod-cacophony’s got

more back-up singers than Beyoncé and it’s been going longer than any

symphony on earth.  Spider started conducting before humans had ears

to hear it with, and bumblebees will rumble their bass beat long after

we turn to dirt. Even after our mayfly bodies fold their wings and cities crumble

like ant-hills after a summer thunderstorm, there will still be

singing things  in the trees.

Half the people

on this train are sleeping

wearing ties or black waiters’ pants, heads bowed

as if praying to a god who might

soothe the aches

of a day’s muscle-burning

standing, nodding, yes sir, just a moment ma’am, again.

Nighttime and half of us are listening

eyes shut to music that drowns out the rails singing

their screeching song and

drunk men muttering belligerent opinions

as if they were kings.

She sits behind me.

We are both reading and her eyes ache

blue on the inside, mine

blue on the outside:

I seek ways

to make her laugh again, to

bring out the light

she shields within, careful

to keep that flickering candle burning

on a windy night when darkness is a thing you can touch

when the wind rises within her,

blowing hard enough to bruise her ribs, steal

her breath

and that’s why I hug her, try to cradle

her rib-cased lungs with my skinny

moon-pale arms

keep her warm and safe from the wind

from winter

when darkness will whistle mourning songs and we

will all be sleeping

hibernating within jackets

within skin

avoiding the ice of strangers’ stares on the train

easy to slip on.

I sit

eyes closed


for sunlight to melt my eyes and bring the

shadows again, at least

somewhere we can rest

Me and the City

got a thread going on Gmail.  Apparently I sent

it a message a while ago or

maybe it was just spam accidentally clicked on, but anyway

now we’re in contact

for better or worse.  City tells me

the little things that happen each day, not

front-page shootings or scandals but how there’s

a new graffiti tag on the wall of a

video store in Humboldt Park or

the teeth-clenching headache of a jackhammer on Adams Street.

City just figured out how to post video links so

now I keep watching stupid clips

like a kid faceplanting

off a skateboard jump down stairs in a park somewhere;

I think the City has a messed-up

sense of humor, but I chuckle too.

We must have something in common

something dark we

thought we left in the ashes, yesterday’s mud

not quite wiped off our soles

Some mornings the message is terse, biting as

cold winter breeze off the lake I haven’t

even felt yet, but I know

what it’s like

Me and the City both ache as we rise

some mornings, spines feel older than we are

ghosts’ blood rusting our shoulder-blades–why we crave

younger lighter fare to balance

the weight

why we keep in touch

hold each other and send messages in electronic bottles

hoping we will float another day.

Today I breathed fire.

Inhaled enough oxygen to fill the tank

my grandfather wears golfing, let it

simmer in my stomach

with churning undigested anger; then

vomited out flames

like Trogdor, like my words

were a volcano of truth

burning everything and everyone in

their path, even

searing my lips raw.

But the wind, clever thief

that it is, snatched up these flickers

of fireborn words in its

pickpocket fingers and carried them


Nobody could hear what I had roared; all

they could see was the wisp of

smoke trailing

from my singed mouth.

the last time I spoke to God
I was eight years old and had just
said a final goodbye to
my eighty-seven-year-old great-grandmother
and I was reading books /about stars
and numbers etched on forearms    /about the devil’s arithmetic
alone in my room at bedtime
the walls bulged out and bent in
as the house breathed, and I lay
in its belly looking up at the ribs     /like Jonah
inside of that whale
he tried to run away from God but
I turned and faced him, asked the darkness
how could you
let them kill in your name
allow them to die /in vain     /in numbers unimaginable
/in melting pain
they believed in you, that you
had chosen them for your own next
of kin—yet you saw the lists
and the chimneys and did nothing. didn’t you know
family keeps its promises
no matter the distance?
family’s supposed to love and even
when I try to run away from myself, blood calls
me back and sends postcards sometimes to say hello

but me and God
we haven’t spoken in a long time
since that night
he never got back to me
/now I’ve got the Devil’s number
on speed-dial cause he’s a hell

of a lot easier to reach from this particular corner of the earth


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