Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Little Testament" by Joe Bolton

Whatever the night is,
I’d tell you it’s the heaving mass
Inside somebody’s kicked skull,
A dark so dark that intricate things begin to shine
Like a snail’s trail,
Like the lights strung out like cheap beads
Along some city street
Where people work and dream and die.
I don’t say live.
                      From a distance,
The city looks like broken glass
You see in any city lot
Under the faint, faithless chant
Of streetlamps.
                      South of the city, too,
The Spanish chapel without faith—
Is merely sad and lovely as the flowered dress
Of the girl who sweeps the chapel steps at dawn,
Or as the girl herself whose eyes
Won’t meet your eyes, or as the dust
That seems to resurrect itself
Wherever she’s just swept.

You can already tell I have nothing
To offer you beyond this flash of hope, this echo
Fading as it ranges westward
Across a continent that can, at night,
Still seem nearly empty.
                      Mine is the one
Window left lit as you walk
Through this neighborhood and through this night
That quicken your step.
                      And the night
Keeps coming back, as if you were the one
Returning to it—moments
When you hear what sounds like hell’s orchestra
Blasting from a car,
Or when what you’re afraid of seems to drift
Close to the shore of whatever river
You love:
                      Ohio, Mississippi, Rio Grande.

When now fails,
Was is all there is;
Elsewhere we lose always.
My cigarette smoke floating off in the night
Is the fire of my autobiography in ashes.

We only win at trying not
To be.
                      But anybody
Can tell you that—can call escape pride,
Meanness humility,
The arc and hiss of a match flicked into the water
The deep brief love they once felt for the world.

What little they find in my pockets
When it’s over,
                      You can have.

-from "The Last Nostalgia"

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