You, who seek grace from a distracted God,
you, who parse the rhetoric of empire, who know
in your guts what it is but don’t know what to call it,
you, good son of a race of shadows—
your great fortune is to have a job,
never ate government cheese,
federal peanut butter—
you, jerked to light from secret dreams under your sheets,
forgotten by 5:15
you, who sleep where you fall, sleep
beside women not yours who keep you warm, sleep
in spare rooms of your brothers, sleep in the old
bed in the back of your mother’s house, sleep
where you are closest to a bus line—
you, who can’t believe your ma rose at 4:45
to fry one huevo and a slice of bologna
laid on corn tortilla—border benedict—
here’s your chance to drag home
eighty dollars a week, for her electric. Food.
What’s left you spend on used paperbacks,
a matinee, amigos, bus fare—
pay the ticket back to work.
You kneel in Ma’s broken tub now, no shower—
no heat—plastic tarp over crumbled wall—gonna fix that
for reals—one day—soon—no shampoo? Shit! Scrub
your scalp with dish soap. Shiver. 5:35. Hop-to:
got a mile to hustle to the express stop.
You, who have no car, rush past house windows bright
behind driveway Cadillacs—
neighbors you never speak to stir
their money in golden pots for all you know,
heat turned high, showers running—
and up boyhood’s hill you biked down
all those gone years ago, head alight with high school hopes—
the poetry of Becky’s eyes, Colette’s laughter,
Li’l Mousie’s big black avalanche of hair, letters
in your back pocket from someone else’s sweetheart—
walk on blood
stains brown now where the duplex bully crashed
his stolen dirt bike into a trailer hitch last month and left
teeth your homeboys counted in the street.
You, who have Echo and the Bunnymen hair
go. Go. Hike fast, man—
And you long to sleep beside a woman you cannot
You reach the bench by 6:00. Still dark, but
far mountains flame
in orange light coming on—around you,
coughing angels smoke, Guadalupes whisper—
maids in sweaters, men in work boots and Levi’s
watching for the 50 to come, watching the clock,
working for kids, for families, for parents, and
already the blubbery radio pharisee vomits rerun clots
of fetid blood upon their heads,
these calloused children,
these illegals, these fucking greasers, these wetbacks,
these narcos, these gang-related Hispanics, these beaners,
these pepper-bellies, these spics, these taco-benders, these Aztecs,
these welfare cheaters, these social-security chiselers,
these savages, these gitanos, these illiterate diseased job stealing unassimilating
anchor baby makers, these papists, these terrorists,
someone laughs, so do you, all together now. Bus comes,
gasps, doors unfold like aluminum scorpion jaws—oh Christ
everybody there just dug panicked between couch pillows
for enough coins to pay the fare—
one more late day and you’re all fired
and some of you wept while digging.
Praying the invisible man’s psalm;
ay, por favor, por favor, por favor—
doors chew closed. You’re in.
You drop downhill toward black water and veer
south to the sleeping city—bays and harbors full of oil
don’t invite any one of you to swim.
Bus transfers in grim fists
worried and twisted—busmen catching more buses, riders catching red
trolleys to get to jobs nobody wanted but everyone
needed, catching hell from asshole foremen who have never
read a single poem and never will—gardeners
nails soiled black, they’re sleeping now, harrowing small hedgerows
of last dreams, mouths open, men and women borrowing more seconds
of home, of Spanish, of brown nipples, of grandparents, of mangos
and bailes de primavera, of days before heavy work boots or maid shoes,
days of never ending nothing, O Elohim,
old days they swayed like alamos in breezes, days before headless
men were left in the topaz dawn in the pueblo’s plaza, before the desert women
were left dismantled for buzzards in the praderas, before the exodus. And you,
who cannot sleep, bless these great unseen,
stare at the world made of Alka-Seltzer,
fizzing away in the light. Still.
You pull the cord.
Same old downtown street. Same day every day, unchanged.
You blink on Avenue C—fog
disembarks at the docks,
follows sailors drunk and whoring before breakfast
down Broadway. Strange days. Echoes flee the county jail cold beside you:
voices: hymns of rage: inmate and trustee, some of them your cousins,
sing matins, night’s vigils over: offer hosannas of longing: Patri et Filio:
in tedium you walk silent, counting your manifold sins,
to the plaza, stand
in the crush of your family—these children heading for trade school,
the wheelchair man, the woman and her shopping cart,
the nodding hooker with blue tears on her cheek, paisanos
y borrachos, Ticos, Boricuas, Xicanos, Apaches,
Tainos, Habaneras, cariocas, Mayas,
tattooed cholo Samurai’d and inscrutable leaning back,
hushed as he watches
you. And you want to, you
really want to, you are bursting with it, you
are burning with it, you
who have no words
want to cup their cheeks in your hands,
you want to hold their faces between your palms,
you want to say it—say it, you have nothing
to lose—say it: say
I love you. I love you.
I love you. I love you.
I love you. I love you.
I love you.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.