Four Poems

Drinks at The Paradise Hotel

At The Paradise Hotel
the jazz man in the velvet
jacket croaks love songs
with a voice as cold and slimy
and vulnerable as a frog’s belly.
The fountain is a tragic reminder.
The marble tables are wading
into another century on spider legs.
You like it when we’re drunk in rooms
where strangers are slipping around, spying
on each other with dread in their tipsy
sneers. The bartender is mean
but professional. If he spits
in the drinks he makes sure you
can’t taste it. You get the sense paranoia
is another kind of oxygen for him. His inner
organs are probably hard and small:
coals ready for the fire. Time here gets lost
easily, like pride and careful planning.
On the carpet is a pattern it’d take an entire
night to pursue and another
to contemplate. The piano notes
are phantoms culled from other
phantoms so old they can’t even remember
to shift in their sleep. Something gets haunted,
then gets haunted all over again.
When we link arms, march upstairs,
and jump from the roof into the sprinkle
of city lights below, the breeze will sweep
us away on extended scarves of twisted
cloud. Everything will smell
of last night’s perfume. Everything
will stop until the brick falls through.

Train Ride Under the Mountain, Through the Bridge

The train carried nothing but cigarette smoke and an old man sleeping on a hammock in the last car. At the wheel stood a conductor. He was a mannequin with a birdcage torso and a parakeet squeaking inside. The moon was an opaque globe around which moths fluttered like burnt snow; just below, the clouds were still as paint. The old man mumbled, wiped the spittle from his beard, stared out the frosty window into the shriveled-up dark. Little animal thoughts pressed their snouts into the spongy substance he thought of as himself. If he could think back, he’d think back to his apartment above the chapel infamous for its raucous, infernal weddings. If he could remember every instant that’d led him to old age he’d fight against each one. His beard was his only badge of redemption. The only thing he’d ever consider calling a sibling. At night he used crawl out on the fire escape and drink beer from a funnel of old newspapers and count the planes flashing by. In the morning, he’d sweep up glass and confetti from other people’s streets. Afternoon was the only time he had to figure things outa threadbare blanket of time stiff with dried sweat, stinking of fever. And now he was in a train sweeping across a valley twisted with moonlight, his memory a reel of pornographic movies starring the mice he’d always heard around him as he slept.

Damaged Movie Reel

There’s another city at the bottom of the lake
and the diners on the other side of town are empty.
The watch in my pocket is ticking
like a book written with one word.
The hour is swallowing down its own throat.
Past the old theater there’s a field
of roses catching frequencies from broken radios.
My thoughts are blisters
of static peeling off the sides
of some obscene joke.
My small finger has a burn as fat
as a dime only I can see.
I could drive until four in the morning
and turn backwards with every corner.
I could walk into a wall and leave
my skull in a ruin of brick.
Under the trees along the boulevard
every cat is a statue with a clock ticking inside.
Then a lamp turns off in a courtyard window.
An old man is brushing
his hair in a room with a stuffed canary.
Not even the curtains are breathing.

Short History of a Small Book

The city breathes like a rabid dog in an antique garden. Under the window of his piano teacher, Murry waits gloomily in the rain. He’s a drunken cop with a mouse of influenza drowning in the wet bag of his lungs. He holds a small book; he opens it. He removes the gun hidden in the pages he’d carefully gutted that afternoon, as rain scrolled against the windows of his study like a curtain of dirty velvet. He hears the notes behind the window. He reaches the end of each song. In the train rumbling across the throat of the city, Drucilla reads a book about an opera which was banned for inciting a revolution in a minor town no one knows the name of anymore. She loves opera: books as fatalistic as intermezzos; rooms as familiar as arias crooned by imprisoned lovers. Half the novels she owns are records when you turn them over. Night unhinges the streets and bubbles to the clouds. In a beer garden the thief in the three-piece suit reads a newspaper. His fingers are bloody and he’s missing a shoe and he can’t remember why. Night scatters the obituary in front of him. He might be a serpent for all he knows, or a gentle drug in the brain of twilight, or a weapon in the basement of a flower. There’s a horrible memory just waiting to come home.

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