Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 120 in October, 2009.
It was as if the sky of the apocalypse hung over the city.
It went straight from a funeral black
and skipped over the blue into a morning haze,
thick as a ball of cotton in your mouth.
What could you say, anyway, that wasn’t said before?
That you knew it would be like this? How else would it be,
but a road that strangles the city in a band of smoke
and on the corners old men sitting on empty buckets.
Young college girls clothed in only what is necessary
floating in and out of trucks pulled over to the side.
Parachutes the people call them, beautiful drifters.
The same old men with faces grooved by the weather
squat and watch the traffic with folded arms,
remember the days of donkeys and horses,
their eyes telling you they know there is no going back,
that none of this will change.
And when they open their mouths to spit out the bitter fruit
you can see through the gathered dust and cobwebs
the way despair blossoms from a heartache,
is picked up by a street child in dirty clothes
and worshipped as an incarnation of the end of times,
one more excuse to get high and numb
to the way hope disappears around corners and side roads,
houses ever beautifully stuttering on the edge of collapse.
There are pictures of this in every tourist’s camera,
as if any of it can be forgotten—
people at the end of a line that never seems to end;
peasants and young boys with snot running down their faces,
cloaked in a misery so permanent that every one of them
will tell you dust is a real color.
In living rooms far away from all this,
they will flip through photo albums and say to their friends,
“Ah, how good it would be to live again the simple life,”
and someone, with his feet kicked up on the coffee table,
invariably will remark on the photographer’s skill,
the way light catches on a fender and blurs,
the way a child’s eyes, when caught of guard, have nothing to hide,
a perfect study of color and form.