New Orleans


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

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

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.

.

listen

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

look:

and don’t forget

NOLAporch

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.

Retired,

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.