After midnight, I dragged carpet padding
from a trash bin and spread it on the asphalt
between the wall and dumpster. Screened from sleet,
I pulled carpet remnants over me, and that night
I married, raised a family, and outlived everyone
except a daughter - a teacher - and her two children,
one damaged. I woke when a bread truck scraped the bin.
From under damp carpet, I watched punctilious men
sign invoices, sweep, hose down the docks. A boy
in a bloody butcher's smock leaned against the wall
and smoked through bloody fingers.
At night, I search
and sometimes find my daughter. “I make good money now,”
I tell her. “Let me take Teresa home with me.
I can buy the help she needs.” My daughter smiles,
asks how I'm doing, and I lose the moment
to my wife, my job, my actual
family, as the thick-faced infant bucks in her arms
or beats her forehead hard and almost musically
against the table. When I clench her to my belly,
she screams, red-faced and rigid. “Hush, hush, hush,”
I serenade her. “O unhushable baby, hush.”
Down the long, wide, and closely trimmed acres of Mammon,
plate toppling with saffron potato salad, I followed my shadow
to an appealingly dilapidated pond. Ghostly koi coasted under ripples
undulating to the tempo of hidden pumps. Fish mouths
mouthed my shadow, and among them moved a golden
adumbration. Voluptuous fins feathered the water, blossoming
like massive chrysanthemums that opened and opened
- bud to blowsy, blowsy to blown - and gently closed.
Gold propelled itself on delicate explosions, dissolving
and resolving in aureate metamorphoses, golden fish to golden flower,
flower to fish. But fins I thought petals were actually,
I could not believe this, wings. It was a trained bird, a pullet,
slipping under silk lilies. Before I could even be astonished,
the shadow of wealth stood beside my shadow, a large man,
sly look worn always openly. “I call that one Mother,” he said,
and laughed. “Then I'll call her Mother too,” I answered, laughing with him
because on Fridays I gathered balls while he snapped chip shots,
one after one, over the hood of his Benz, yellow balls
arcing black lacquer I'd polished and onto a green I'd swept.
He never thwacked a door panel, dimpled the hood, or, dear God,
as I prayed from behind a rigid grin, slapped a frosted star
through safety glass. “Risk,” he explained. “Risk makes you concentrate.”
Orange carp gulped hopefully at our reflections. A sandblasted dolphin,
nearly amorphous with calculated age, shot filtered water into filtered water.
“This is America,” he told me. Though I was the help, of course I was invited.
At our feet, Mother, never surfacing, lapped the pool like an Olympian.
The man in front of us leaned out his door
and spat. The radio boohooed,
“I'm wearing my crying shoes.” What the hell
does that mean? I wondered, as the blonde beside me,
eyes shut, heels propped on the dash, slapped her thighs,
and bawled, “Crying shoes! I'm wearing
my crying shoes.”
“This light's going to last forever,”
I said. “Let's steal a car!” she answered, eyes glistening.
Scuffed bucks rested on the drilled-out brake
and accelerator. They were my shoes. I had a car. We were in it.
Or was that her point - I was boredom itself?
The spitter wheeled into Burger King, stood,
and, one hand on the roof, spat compactly,
watching it. “Steal a car? How about a movie?”
“What are you, the only white man left in the world?”
“No, there's me and whoever's singing that goddamn song.
And that dude spitting on his shoes. But that's it.
That's all of us.” Violins slid in lard across the song's
sad bridge, and true to spoony music's low
simpering allure, I hummed along in her silence
until, with my right crying shoe, I pegged the accelerator.
The tires rose on haggard rubber, screaming
against the engine's scream, one song obliterating the other,
and the V-8 forging forward banged us back.
Lorraine sang, Mouth or knife,
mouth or knife at
the knothole - which, which, which?
From the other side of the fence,
she sang, Steel or lips
at the knothole? Tongue
or blade? she chanted - which,
which, which, and giggled,
teasing. I put myself
in the hole. Myself? It felt
like my whole self when
she put her mouth on me
and I jerked away, afraid.
Bodiless laughter rang
from the opening, low and joyous.
Mouth or knife. Mouth
or knife. Which, which, which?