In the City of God
O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
Because every payphone I stand at
off the back apron of a filling station
has grooves where shoes have scuffed the weeds flat,
flat not dead, the heart still green
among the urgent roots;
because the chicken bone lies there
shining in suspense yet content in dirt,
gnawed to the knuckle, gnashing with ants,
a patch of skin still fried to the shaft;
because there is one smashed roach,
its wings exquisitely squalid
(they could be dark doilies at a funeral feast
or flounce on the breast of a metalstung punk),
wings lifted by passing traffic whooshes,
the roach who so ardently loves us
he lives his life inside of ours,
forgiving our screams and Black Flag panics.
For these things, O God, hear this my prayer:
that pine tree prophets have it right this time,
who nail those handpainted seerings
that blur along the fence posts at sixty miles an hour,
and in fact we better Get Right With God
for The World Is Ending Soon.
Lord, may it end even in a trice,
may Jesus by God torch this sucker
like a shaggy slum where the Heathen Rage.
Some whore maybe dropped the bone
when a trick honked its nervous horn,
yet I dare call it bold if pigeye mad
I slap the door too hard enough against the stop
to distress the hinge.
Oh there is no despair like forbearance,
it gelds the righteous anger of us all.
Old poets will be pleased to hear
swallows still awhistle in upgathered skies,
and note the moon still wavering
according to its built-in schedule of waverings,
hyping then dissing the dallied tides.
But what will they make of us,
who have come to the impasse of loving and loathing,
who have come to the abattoir of rectitude and vigor,
where no wrist nowadays looms its cleaver
in the call of righteousness,
but sentiment sours the other cheek?
Our nice hearts balk both testaments,
the vengeful and the Jesus,
feeding Christ pablum and secondguessing wrath,
the valves doubletalking till we don't know
whether Satan or Christ is laying down the tempt
nor what the succumbing might really cost.
Should we just hotwire this life
and gun it out of town before we know enough
to foresee where we're going, and wind up
neither damned nor saved in suburbia?
Ants, grate those mandibles like there's no tomorrow.
If you hurry with this bone you might
could heft it like Egyptians to the pyramid
you've sifted a dust at a time on the altarridge
between the valleys of kings our feet have worn
before the telephone which receives our prayers,
the ridge under which your queen supines
killing lovers by the millions in a readymade tomb.
Ants, you better hurry!
With that tattoo of fried-on skin
this wishbone won't last the rat night ahead,
slurred as it will be in the glow of Krispy Kreme.
That neon plies its confectious trade
along this tunnel avenue among lowslung blacklungs
who appear and disappear in streetlight mineshafts
offshift and onshift, mosquitoes for canaries,
their quarries of silver uncut and in dust
and ziplocked shut, a dime a bag
and no haggling over price
as the deal goes down . . .
Ants, you better hurry, for it's a lie to a child
that nachts schlafen die ratten doch.
No tooth hustles our baffled hearts like the rats,
so freely ambitious with their deaths behind them.
On batlike feet will they shuttle this bone of cock
through a cracked basement transom
to nibble on instead of the salty asbestos,
tatty on old wiring, and bare the firebright copper.
Should Christ show tonight
and his last match blow out,
under the floor joists all over this city
embracing wires will save him the plight
of bumming a light in the doughnut palacio
where each coffee glimmers
like an ebony Sheban queen
swathed in its own steam stole;
where the conveyor never squeaks,
it is so well-greased from the dripping rows
of quoitish ghetto snax
it runs in under the sugar spray
like jews through their showers.
They roll out warm but cooling down
across the stainless table,
the sweet skin flaking.
Whether rat's fire or God's,
sirens will be swarming
if the gig is on tonight.
How can we, how even pose
the language long enough to hear
the question ask itself, "are you re-"
sssh. The night puts its finger to our lips
transfixed in the apocalypse
of kids becoming one flesh
flush against the mailbox
rocking bluely, its letters alarmed,
kids transacting something real,
lingua to lingua without any words,
this no cybersex, no downloaded lust
that whispers in the speaker but has no smell.
The fat cigar who hired the stretch limousine
waggles his glowing voyeur tip,
naughty come, naughty here,
and shuffles stacks of twenties
to buy their sin reacted
(or trans-, inter-, en-)
in the backseat or the backside,
am besten auf dem sofa,
unter seinem Hundertwasser
up there in town.
Up there in town
groans are few and far between
in the souls cash has stifled,
in minky hearts no matter how
sincerely the hired help their thrusts endear.
High up in town in their priapian towers
they pay by the decibel
(or the 1-900 minute),
by careening needles of bloodpressure gauges.
Next to their toilets
hang silk toilet tissues
perforated into patches
along the dotted lines
in a Hong Kong sweatshop,
each segment emblazoned
with a Grand Master print;
the innermost surprise in the roll,
like the unseen jewel in the crackerjax,
some roughcut Durer beast
to be wiped-on, dropped, and flushed.
How can we get—maybe a dog
will redeem the chicken bone, jaunt it high
in rumbling teeth above the low roach
before the nightbold rats can jive.
I saw one such canine cavalier
in what would have struck you as ecstasy
thrashing on his back on the sidewalk,
his paws desperado raking heaven's belly
but I knew from years on a chain
he pitched and arched in furious itch
so comb him I did, raking with my nails
until he creased in a grin,
gleaning a palmful of pinpoint scabs
the angelseed fleas had graced him with.
They scaled like off a fish or the boils of Job
and this mongrel bared no teeth
upside down on that concrete,
balls and pizzle wobbling for all the world he cared,
that he later sniffed and daintily licked.
He made what hay he could of agony,
and my beneficence scourged again to mind:
with all this going on, this glory
as wretched as a rib-skinny cur,
how could I mean what true and utter word
could redeem us, with the sickle question mark
(ARE YOU REDEEMED?)
set to mow the doomed down.
I mean how can we ever get right or even less wrong
with His Porcupinish Grace,
ornery enough to send his son to die,
six pints of blood and a few pounds of flesh
multiple enough for worlds of gluttons
starving on despair . . .
What can redeem us
when all but one redemption
is mooted by the spikeheel
exclamation marks I saw punctuate,
in jezebelling luxury, last Easter morning,
Eos' pink smile (she who too was prowling
the first-lit streets for some tightmuscled lad
at whom the curfews winked).
Her shreds of greenish lavender-streaked cloud
set the streetwalker's sequined raiment flashing,
mooted I say by her apostasy of moxie.
For she was ready (so her swagger dared
on this Holiest of Holies)
to take on even Him, the Christ Aroused,
should he open His heart to a Magdalen again,
Messieur of our sin, Masseur of salvation,
if He'd promise to make it a quickie.
While He was nightlong rising
she'd been going nightlong down
in the back of a Cadillac
that daytimes doubled as a hearse
in the parking lot beside
The Garden of Gethsemene Baptist Tabernacle;
she was tired I say of looking all night long
at the sag of old roofliner cloth,
at the fusty floor of her heavenly days,
yet she's never nodded off
under the burdens of those souls
who groaned when they loved her
when the midnight muscle shuddered,
when they lay crucified on her body's purge.
Indeed her allowance to us sinners
is easily the match to pater noster Peter's,
who according to the scripture
fell fast asleep and missed the fatal cup,
and yet was more than Judas forgiven
(and redeemed), who had the integrity
to find himself a rope and a lonely tree.
Such are the vagaries of forsaking.
And when the moment of unlusting comes,
the moment of the toes' contractions,
the ear above her hears,
"But as for Hellfire, honey,
don't let's talk about that.
Ain't nobody said nothing
about going down that far."
So this must be how at some point
a poem mustn't mean or truly be,
but be truly mean, mean as a pimp
who'd stick Christ for a twenty;
or be promiscuous as pigeons,
as resilient as death.
It may lay the vilest harmonies
as bare to the dumb of heart
as blood is to AIDS, wherein it doth delight,
as cunt is to cock, complacency to blight.
(This poem could rhyme if it chose,
could be metrified, petrified, taxidermied too
if only truth could tolerate
a mascared rose.
It chooses, alas, to snarl
like muzzles in a zoo.)
Pigeons I have watched,
maestros of strut and coo,
bob and stalk each other
across an evicted couch
in its gutterslouch,
and him her effusively
and noisily feather
on a castaway tuffet
or atop a micowave,
their toenails abristle,
while the winos on the mattress
stamped their feet and clapped,
and afterwards ripple
their prism necks
as if, in the sun
they symbolized a covenant
between this arkload of the humble
tumbling in time's flood
and a God whose toes
have never since dabbled
among our fastfood trashes.
Yet no one can be saved
who lacks a sympathy for trash.
Litter is the act of moving on
which He has yet to do
(refusing like a mule to give up on us),
litter personifies the smileless curbs.
On pigeon-watch I come to think
birds of paradise with their droopy godeyes wide
would always be stared down,
would be flustered into folding
like a gambler with no nerve
by these freebase survivors
with lustrous throats ariffle
and a lousy sense of shame,
throats as rainbowed as oil
on a breeze-kissed puddle,
more numerous than angels, and cagier.
No No No No
to say I'm crazy and stroke your soul
to masturbation's quivery height
is to tell yourself your life
is worth not the slashpine
I've nailed this poem onto
by the roadside in your mind's eye;
is to cajole your soul toward the doubt
that life is worth no more than fun,
and you know too much rides on this
for consolatory binges to slide you by again.
Your headlong veerings toward the verge of faith
mock the heathens inviolable with guff
whose rage at least lays bare a truth.
You are sleek with grouse
and incensed mumbo-jumbo.
Face it: betrayal is easy only
if you have nothing to betray.
Payphones count on you
to punch tentone requiems;
chickens count on you
to strew their bones on pillows
of cigarette butts;
stray dogs count on you
to bless their curse of lonesomeness
transcending even that of rain;
and it's true, truer than these,
that newspapers always run out room
to print the obituaries of the sinful good.
Don't turn from this poem back into prominence
before it has told all that love endures,
for endurance marks the man,
not on the forehead as God fingered Cain,
placarding his guilt to all but himself
(for this spite the killer toughens his disdain),
but in his eye, from which he cannot hide.
Ignoring God is suicide
but you must be prepared
to make God sweat to love you,
or set yourself afire
or write these blasphemies yourself:
suffer wisdoms as sinuous
as sequins on whores,
suffer scritching absolutions
on your roachy bathroom floors,
suffer death's shadow tapping its foot
while dealers hawk your life
on the steps outside your doors.
These lines tear the veils
from mock lamentations,
from unharrowed prayers;
they bear the sweaty world's
so wipe the fearful obsequy
off your face while you yet
have hands more than bone,
button on your spats,
conch up your curls
and sweettalk a bitch,
get down and boogie
in the ditch
of your need
like a weed.