Barefoot in the City
Going barefoot in the city
saves money because bars
and restaurants won’t admit me.
It’s good for my ministry, too.
If I cut my feet on broken glass
I heal instantly, and my followers
applaud. But a more authentic
mockery of Jesus has appeared.
His crystal gaze affixes women
from the shelter. Drunk men cower
as he speaks in such modest tones
they have to learn forward to hear.
Filthy, trash-studded snow banks
upholster the avenues. Junk cars
slump in the alleys, burned hulks
stolen from better neighborhoods
and torched after raucous joyrides.
This fake Jesus and I should join
hands and sing hymns together,
baritone and tenor. Can he work
the humbler sort of miracles?
Can he turn wine into water
as adroitly as I can? Split meals
at the shelter into a hundred
greasy servings? Heal himself
of his daily cuts and bruises?
His lank blond rug becomes him
better than my gray old bramble.
His muscles rumple like roasts.
His smile melts the ice in the street.
But he’s unwilling to go barefoot
in the long yellow winter light.
When the police tote his carcass
to the morgue he may or may not
arise to honor his commitments;
but unlike me he’ll fail to leave
that one bloody footprint in snow
by which for a day or two
his many disciples will know him.
Scouring the dictionary for sipe,
I learn it’s a tread element
in a tire. You’re so elated
by this definition that your hair
flusters straight up from your forehead
and you scrawl a note so forcefully
the pencil point breaks. A sipe
is merely an incision, a small
local effect. Like the ice jam
on the river near the motel:
one element in a landscape
fraught with seasonal tremors.
And, like you, an incision deep
enough yet shallow enough
to function without damaging
the structure of which it is part.
In what structure do you function?
Your radical hair is a clue,
and so is your Audrey Hepburn
expression, in which larger worlds
than the one I inhabit collide.
You claim to have discovered the word
sipe in an unknown work by Melville,
and now your scholarly article
shimmers like a famous sermon
although you’ve written only one word.
I slam shut the dictionary
and rest my head on my desk while
your hair bursts into flames and your laugh
shimmers down the corridor to shock
dust in electrostatic waves
from the carpet, a ghost dance
of finely civilized debris.
A Sea of Silk Neckties
When I open the haunted closet
a sea of silk neckties floods
the room, surges through the windows,
surfs into the street. Red and green,
gold and blue and pink and yellow,
brown with lightning stripes, paisley,
old-school, regimental, and patterned
with golf clubs, dogs, squash rackets,
shields with tiny Latin mottoes.
The tidal uproar congeals. Traffic
halts in wonder at this vast collage.
Buried in strata of woven silk,
I struggle to emerge and close
the door to the haunted closet,
but the roar of ties has concluded.
Now it’s an art installation,
and curators gather to claim
the massive display for museums
with gallery space great enough
to house such arrogant colors.
I don’t know who or what haunts
that closet, but freed from the heap,
I explore the interior. Mist
as tough as cigar smoke blurs
a distance no actual closet
would contain. I can see as far
as Rome before the mist closes—
one glimpse of the Colosseum
more than enough to convince me.
Working as a team, the curators
are folding up the frozen mass
of ties in the street. They agree
that as the artist I should decide
who gets to show this masterpiece.
But I refuse to give my consent
because the overlapping colors
of this weird haunting are keen
to devour the whole spectrum
and condemn us to the dark.