LOST IN THE GUTTER
Lost in the gutter, skeleton keys
that used to be people before
they ran out of doors to open.
How many thresholds back from here
to yesterday? And those eyes,
such dark jewels, where can I
get a pair of sharky shades like that?
Ghosts dance around a burning oildrum
where the prophets are boiled in alcohol
for not saying anything of much worth,
like a poem no one wants to steal
the hubcabs off, or a rainfall in November
too late to do the flowers much good
or the working girls on the corner
like cotyledons in hot pants. Indoor orchids
under tungsten grow lights in the snow.
When the mystery wanes unadventurously
and what you see in life asks too much
of your eyes at dusk and moonrise
to look for a black box that isn’t
a voice-over of the stars’ untimely demise,
but might be the genuine you singing to yourself
in your sleep like a hermit thrush
trying to accompany its own silence
with something sweet and sad that beguiles
your melancholy for awhile, the jester
too deep to ever take himself seriously,
the apostate mystic enters a surrealistic circus tent
redolent with the cheap thrills of enlightenment.
He walks around like the ground of being
with a sacred limp believing he’s experienced
a meaningful death much more profoundly realized
than the nocturnal longings
of the wounded street gurus
busking outside the liquor store
like a cult of uncut koans on a Friday night.
What an estranged world this is
that has such exiles in it. Intense heat,
unusual sprouts, and this era’s been unbearable.
Something mean about the water
we’re depleting like our own housewells
of oxygen as we kick the issues to death
for fracking on someone else’s astroturf.
O look, a finger puppet show of gang insignia
spray-bombed like Kufic writing on the wall.
Why is it always the literate who are the last
to learn how to read that? Tomorrow comes
soon enough. And yesterday’s an obituary
with spelling errors. And as for this moment
together with you in the abyss, you’ve got
an imagination. Make it up for yourself.
And I mean that as a gift, not an insult
to the unkept promise of your native intelligence.
Madame Maudlin with her magic phials
of snakeoil and tears guaranteed to restore
your sense of pity like a purgative at the end
of all these endless tragedies, says
there isn’t a watershed in the world deep enough
no matter how far it got her down like Atlantis
she couldn’t buoyantly bubble up from
like something obnoxiously effervescent
about her nature. And you notice her breasts
on the marquee of the matinee, and you know
right away, that’s a double feature of her
dogpaddling on the moon with mythically inflated
waterwings making flightplans for Leda and the Swan
like one of her runaways and a john.
What kind of a coma is it to live dissociatively
in a society where even the emergency opioids
can’t numb you to the recurring nightmare
of orphaning your dream of a better life from sex
like an unwanted child you’re trying to keep clean
by driving it away from yourself like a scapegoat
into a wilderness with the sins of a tribe on its back?
Street wisdom is the occult science
of demonizing the innocent by exalting
the deviant as a special form of the straight and narrow,
the fledgling rain targetting the tree rings
and rootfires in the heartwood of its own arrow.
Here comes another heroic prologue
from the Bronze Age to make a coward
of the text. When you receive a loveletter
you’re always the envelope trying to read
what’s been written on the inside of your eyelids
but send one that unfolds like an encoded flower
and you’ll always feel as if you were putting
your emptiness to good use, your silence
to the task of deciphering your third eye in solitude.
Ever weep and not know why like a waterclock
trying to keep pace and pulse with a time zone
as big as oblivion overflowing the abyss of your heart
like the bucket wish of a watershed appealing
like a housewell to the rain to bail you out by
filling you up until your skull cup runneth over
like a gutter on the moon that cuts through your heart?
Among the lost arts, suffering is the most
ferocious form of compassion the imagination
of a human being can be disciplined in
without any effort on our part at all because
we were all born with a genius, if not
the motive for it, or the experience, from the very start.
In the gutter you can always hear
a sincere young woman singing the blues
like edgy moonlight through a broken window
and later, no crossdraft in a hot apartment,
huddle in the cement threshold of the doorway
where she lingers in the cool of the night
like the smoke of a rebel cigarette posing
like the portrait of a ghost for an empty picture frame.
In the gutter you’re a drop of emotion
in an ocean of chaos and Lady Luck’s
the patron saint of talent, and for city blocks
as far as you can see through the blazing of the blind,
people are either waiting to be discovered
among the bullrushes like illegitimate children
exiled from their own promised land,
or orphaned on the steps of the temple
with blue ribbons in their hands
that meant something much less venal once
than a dynastic return to a pimped-out innocence
riding like a gold rush through a slum
trying to stay an avalanche of starmud ahead of itself,
or the greater vehicle of a medicine chest
of pharmaceuticals hatching out like cosmic eggs
of crackhead serpent fire living the dream
it was cursed by when it got what it asked for,
anathematized by the backfire of the blessings
we don’t bestow upon one another as if
even here in the gutter where nothing matters
given how random forever is, and love
just as seldom and rare as the opportunity presents itself,
o, yes, yes, yes, let none deny it, it especially does.