The Shadow

They told me
there is no dawn
without the night.

“Oxnard Street Poet”

Older than the sidewalk cracks and
street, settled on his flaking porch,
he remembered the Valley when it was trees.

“I’m ready to not be old,”
he said as I passed by.
His eyes were uncommonly blue,
for an old man.
He said: “They published my poem.”
I was on my way to school,
about to not stop.
“Once I get the book,
I’ll read it to you.”

*

The book cost $49.95.
He held up the flyer they sent.
But he was proud, 
so I said nothing.

*

“Hallo,” he’d say,
waving from his chair.
“Hello,” I’d say,
not wanting to be rude.
Lovely day,
awesome morning,
top of the world,
hello, hallo,
have a good day.

Joe was great-uncle wrinkled,
and I had class to get to,
I was a Senior.
But everyone should talk
to a grandpa sitting on a porch.

*

He asked if I wanted to read his poem.
The book was thick with cheap paper.
I was late but said yes
and the poem was about apples
and I didn’t have to make something up.
It was worth more than the book.

“Do you like it?” he asked.
“I want to read it to my English class.”
Joe gave me his book.
He said to be careful with it.
“I never got published before.”

*

We sat watching cars
speed down Oxnard Street,
heads moving left to right
then back again, ready.

*

Joe made coffee
and I listened to stories.
He voted for Roosevelt
and Nixon, twice —

“bet you no one’ll ever tell you that!” —

He didn’t like his grand-daughter.
He said I wouldn’t either.
“Uppity.  Ugliness is inner.”
He said if you wanted to get 
a pothole fixed in LA,
put a movie-camera next to it
and the mayor would come fill it himself.

He so near the end
talked to me so near the beginning,
said we were bookends on God’s shelf.
His hands trembled, so I carried the cups.
“That’s what age does,
shakes us loose
from the inside out.”

*

The Oxnard Street poet and
an uppity kid who learned to listen
to words warmed by coffee
and care
and age.

“Mine”

He’s a poster.
He posed for it,
flexed.
Baseball player
who’s won —
wife, kid, God, arms.

Good.
Yes.
I wish him well...

and then plod
up my empty street
soaked in past
and full of dark.
The house is on the right.
A light is on.
He waits for me.

Posters aren’t made of me.
My triceps don’t act like that.
Fans?  No.
My shy love
and this quiet plot,
beautiful,
mine and silent and 
home.

I’ll choose mine
every 
time.

“Weight”

Where did this weight — 

solid rock
crushing my chest
into spine — 

come from?

“You know very well.
That fight? Fourth grade?
Wyoming?”

Yeah.
So maybe it's time
to build a house
with that old stone

and move.

“Lorca”

     Hey, bro!
     I did her!
     With sunglasses on!

     — Memorial Acclamation

Go do it, then,
whatever it is that you do —
sex someone, buy that ring — 
film it, even, make
a record of your elementary courage
and then social your accomplishment
to your kind.
After all, you have the keys — 
     (Secret gesture.
     Secret gesture.
     Secret gesture!)
— and I should want to be
just
like
you.

But, 
no.
If you’re going to do it, hijo,
choose a field where 
you will get caught
and shot
and then I’ll know you’re real.
Let your body stand erect 
as rifles are raised by priests and soldiers;
stand before their righteous hate, alone,
knowing you die for your desire.
Then I’ll follow.

In your childlike voice:  
“It was just a little fun!”
“Why do you have to be so serious?”

Mi pequeñito, you have a thousand ways 
to explain your survival — 
as his blood sings from Spain,
intones a truth known only to me:

Divinity is a dead body,
sinking and stinking,
unliked and unfriended,
shot by justice,
abhorred by Church,
buried nowhere but my heart.

     Cristo amó.
     Cristo murió.
     Cristo murió.

“Dolores Park, SF”

I should write something,
here from this perch above the city.

But what?

Walking up 14th,
I saw a guy shooting up
between his toes.
He'll be dead soon.

And then the perfect couple
modeling their perfect lululemon
exercising their perfect dogs — 

already dead.

Back to Poems.

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