Anne Sexton wrote:
"God has a brown voice,
full and soft as beer."
But I think no,
more a shot of cask-strength bourbon –
"Wow, shit. Woo! Hoo boy."
Or "Hoo-ah!" like Al Pacino
in Scent of a Woman.
Holy – fiery midnight
tossed back without sentiment,
the stars sway and shake
as they did at creation.
No sotto-voce stage-right,
no sorry Romeo in crestfallen overcoat,
no sentimental trombones
stepping on valentine shoes
doing the boxing-step waltz.
Or if God has a soft voice,
maybe like asphalt gone formless
on a burning hot day,
the sky a void –
no place for bare feet
on the road.
Waiting for weather.
Waiting for thunder and rain.
Here, an overdose of pigeons –
brown and grey as a dime bag of scag –
they needle at french fries and trash
in a proximal race with rats
for bloat and blessed anesthesia.
As do I, as do I.
I sit on a bench by the river,
mainline the romance of rusty barges,
the charmed smell of diesel and transmission fluid
In the wasteland of a ferry repair depot.
It is thusly Charon and I converse.
He, a charming industrial ghost –
part ferryman, part dilapidated
freight warehouse in tux and spats –
we veer into conversations on jazz and sports,
What 'Trane and Billy Holiday
had to say as they crossed over,
their eyes and livers hardcore,
burned out Detroits of the soul –
the Babe too and Jesus
A chatterbox who wouldn't shut up
and didn't leave a tip.
I have no axe to grind with death,
but also no yellow bricks to lay end to end
then say goodbye – a road
paved for the caisson,
Its distant drummer's march.
A cop drives by, shines his light.
At this late stage, it doesn't take a brainiac
to come in from the park.
I'm a junkie for the dark.
Sometimes a cheroot is just a cheroot
said Anna Freud’s lover, chomping a lilac cigar –
embers flaring like sunspots,
peony juice jetting into the spittoon
As brass as the reign of George V’s
morganatic mustache –
where a century later on Hampstead Heath
I pull hairs from the beard of Modernism
Declaiming poems in front of her house
and biting heads and arms and legs
off those gingerbread men
of literati, history, badinage,
Stanching the wounds of PoMo amputees
with crumbs and frosting –
while we carry on alive, unfettered,
in ecstasy of symbols.
I heard you sing “birds burn alone”
thinking you meant to rise,
Now I see you standing lost and lonely
in Piccadilly Circus,
a ghost wrapped in curls
Of carnival red and yellow flame –
not standing tall from the ashes,
but leaving a residue of hunger
Like water marks on stone
where you live under bridges
burning memories and trash
to keep warm
Death says to me: soon enough, he will call collect.
(Only pay phones in hell.) (No burners?)
But the phone companies killed all that years ago –
"Operator? Operator?" A bot buzzes in the receiver
like a dying fly.
My cell phone screen is cracked with jokes
and I don't recognize this grim reaper's smile
staring back at me from the lock widget –
gives new meaning
to saving face.
Saved by the bell, or ringtone. Sitting out on the deck –
listening to woodpeckers' hard words with bark beetles.
"I hear you knocking, but you can't come in."
I skipped Morse code in Boy Scouts
along with Lifesaving and Bugling
Which means I can't play taps for you, my friend –
only these fingerprints
on Gorilla glass, tracks in the sand
draining down the silicon hourglass.
If survival is eulogy enough, we are still here.
*”Death Calling Collect” – Don Tracy, 1976 (among other versions/sources)