Saturday, March 3, 2012

Angels Broken Down in Denver


“The Second American life . . .the long electric night with the fires of neon
Leading down the highway to the murmur of jazz.”
-Norman Mailer

I.

I once lived there,
an efficiency apartment on 17th street,
2nd floor,
view of a city climbing even higher
as if to see itself
from Heaven.
That rat trap gave the blues as
good as it got,
roaches scurried like rush hour roaches
away from the kitchen light,
50’s style cloth sleeper sofa entertained
the few women who came and went
to soothe the hours I didn’t have to work
in that barrio,
Larimer Street,
where an inquisitive, cold-
blooded wind with a serrated edge
blew newspaper shards and ghost
flesh down the alleys
and into storefronts,
pawn shops and
factories that sold tortillas and
on one of them, around Easter time, you could
see the vague charcoal image of Jesus or
Ché Guevara.

On weeknights
I’d park the truck as the wind
blew howling down from Wyoming,
but on Sundays,
the trees above Larimer exploded with birdsong.
Rather than go to church I’d read
Robin Blaser, who wrote
part of a poet’s
spiritual discipline
is to be touched by the dark.

Before the angels laid them away:
freezing, mud-striped faces,
free to be one with the street,
free to be devoured by the dark,
Navajo boxcar transient sprawled by the
railroad tracks,
I could see her head wound from a
block away, seemed
as tangential to my business,
to this nightlife,
to these neon murmurs of jazz
as coyote and
if her spirit didn’t move me,
nothing would.
Front page from yesterday’s
newspaper, in some other language,
blew against her body;
the headline grieved:

Lennon was dead and nothing but
flowers erupted on Larimer Street and
a transient silence stilled the
railroad bars,
and the red brick walls,
with frozen graffiti
scrawls of desolation,
died of thirst.
Neon signs over bereft sidewalks,
over El Chapultepec, had the
temerity to flicker on and off and finally
Out, because
Jesus didn’t save that night,
because the souls were untouchable and
blew down the street that night,
because the night was stubbornly
American, because
the mariposa,lily of the barrio,
bloomed,
sang out loud and then
died an angel’s death,
because it’s hard to give the city your blessing
because it’s a chant,
a tinhorn, a jewel, a church,
a jazz trio,
living proof Jesus loves dead places,
a revolver,
a bright soulless black hole of neon,
a mother, a hoax,
a curse.

II.

After Creeley

Whenever I return I can’t listen to
the music of the bones. I don’t know
how to say these things, if I should, how
long I might stay here,
thinking about you,
your face that day
giving off so little heat, your
grey hair more wisps of smoke
than hair,
in a room nobody should
belong to, even facing the window
was a kind of scourge,
a few labored breaths away
from a summer
butterfly’s
tranquility,
her music just above the ground.

I still feel
“tender, semi-
articulate flickers
of your
presence . . .”

As a country, we’ve been patrolling the
borders, as a mother
you opened your heart no matter
how far out in the territories I ended up,
summer was a surrogate for your warmth,
your distant presence reassured.
I didn’t know how far my vocabulary would
get me or how far
you’d drift away from us,
28 years ago,
when it took an eternity for the sun’s
flickering badlands of a
smile to plunge into the far shores
of a
mothering
earth.


-John Macker

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