NaPoWriMo Poem 4: Small Town Hope

Death in a small town

Past the river, past the bridge
past the flaking green paint
pockmarked with rust,
past the sign that says
JESUS DIED FOR YOUR SINS,
JESUS IS COMING AGAIN,
past the graffitied overpass
spray painted with names
and illegible gangbanger tags,
past smokestacks billowing
pillars of dissipating gray vapor dust,
past the homeless hitchhiker,
his shouldered bag of all that he owns,
his dirt-streaked thumb a prayer
to a weather vane, to a long-necked bottle,
to a cushion between his body
and the concrete beneath his body,
past the used car lot selling years
scrawled in white chalk
across windshields
like promises of life-expectancy
to a world occupied by ghosts,
past the lines of railway cars
loaded with wood pulp and tar,
past the flowering trees of white and pink,
past the skeleton hands of petrified bark,
past the dog park empty of dogs
and the flickering light
of the fast food marquees,
past the boarded windows
of the last remaining video store,
past the woman alone in the street
with a rainbow umbrella
and a stainless steel cane,
past the potholed side roads
and the dim alleyways caked with grit,
past the parking lots crowded
with loose paper and decrepit RV’s
and black birds hopping fearless
between sets of shuffling feet,
see, they’re still lamps buzzing to life
in the bluing calm of dusk,
still light amongst the shadows
not swallowed up, still estranged companions
finding comfort
in the simplicity of a hug.

Poem written on Christmas Eve

Hope is a bird reborn
~for Maggie Smith

Fitting that the sky stays muted today
that shade of tombstone gray
where the light seems to strike and die
like a bird against the glass
of a window it thought was just more sky

I’m at that window
searching the scenery for clues
that the world isn’t ending
I’m at that window
wishing I was anything else
maybe the squirrel hunched on my deck railing
scratching a frantic itch
in its ribs
like that is all that matters
and if I opened the door
and shouted “we are all going to die!”
it would just bolt through the crisp leaves
and find another place
to scratch its itch in peace

Somehow things continue
outside the realm of Twitter
and FBI conspiracies
reciting the word “emails”
ad infinitum

Somehow the small magics
of flight and song and solstice
continue to work their physics
oblivious to protests
and the promise
of a new nuclear arms race

Somehow people are still sharing
Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”
like passing a heart
grown in a petri dish
from hand to trembling hand
and remembering
the ones that beat inside them

I stumbled across her other-worldly eyes today
and drew a sharp breath
that such a shade of blue
could still blaze a path
out of the hopeless ether of winter
and find me
stop me in my tracks
make me believe in poetry again
and its prophets
put here like fire
to warm our hands by
on the coldest days
of seasonal affective disorders
and losing democracy
like a bird of broken bones
twitching in the brittle grass

Do you remember what it felt like
the first time you buried something
the way the light seemed to illuminate
all the wrong things
and odors were all mismatched

a coat smelled like a fireplace
a book held notes of copper and wet dog
your hands were reminders of rock and dry dirt
the powder of gravel rising up like steam
from a passing car
carried the scent of a lake turning
a cricket kept and crushed in the palm
a jar opened to expose
the dried husks of once vibrant beauties

Everything is wrong
except the notion
of reincarnation
in the phases of the moon
that even as men with flat-black stares
line up groups of people before their barrels
where the earth breaks away
like a mouth ready to swallow
there remains something unending
and unknowable
beyond our eyelids
every time they close
and right now a bird’s beak
is just cracking its way
free of its speckled shell