Monthly Archives: June 2018

Brothel

‘Violent touch and violence in rooms’ — John Berryman

The abandoned brothel above the architect’s office
in Portland’s Old Town where I had my first real summer job
in 1972 had a long hallway with narrow rooms. Each one
had a light switch outside and a red light over the door inside
Most of the walls were gone only framing and a half inch of
dust like grey lint and pigeon shit everywhere and I could see the
old police chief or councilman with a taste for the rougher sort of thing
slamming up the backstairs making the girls stomachs tighten
waiting to see who he would pick and the madam handing out
a few extra dollars for the night because it usually meant at least
a black eye or worse

The summer I worked there our charismatic young mayor
was secretly molesting the fourteen year old daughter
of a campaign worker and having his chauffeur and his fixer
cover his tracks for decades as he went on to the governor’s office
and then a federal appointment with his party making big plans for him

Now we have a US president who brags openly about molesting women
and uses a mafia-trained fixer to clean up his messes and says he
would date his daughter if she weren’t related to him and I now
know that most often violence happens in closed rooms
instead of streets or on battlefields where you can see it coming
or get out of the way or shoot back and yet a majority of white
women voted for this president even knowing all this about him

I’m back in Old Town and there is a clothing store and a
software company in that building now and life goes on
like it always has except maybe something is changing because my
daughter in college and her friends were harassed at work for weeks
and refused to put up with it and spoke up about it and now that guy
doesn’t work there anymore and that never would have happened
in Old Town in the good old days

Intaglio

You left side reminded me of Jesus where the centurion speared him
And skin sores like a field of feral poppies
I am as lonely as treated water. Letting go or hanging on
Two sides of the same stupid park statue

The hospital road colonized by lumpy strained soup buildings
Hallway smell of disinfectant like your smarmy doctor I couldn’t stand
The baying from husks of old men; you insisted on dying there
I think we were all a bit relieved though I am ashamed to say it

Like skiing off a cliff edge leaving tracks
on the window skin colliding with the bed and the sound
of water running in the linoleum tile bathroom
Pillows with old car badges pinned on them

A bedpan propped against a footboard
Curtain strained light around the head and hands
The moon sliding between your Navajo black pottery
like a hubcap rolling off a car and down the embankment

The Flute

“The flute of interior time is played whether we hear it or not”

–Kabir

Two More Poems About Work

Work Literary Magazine has published two more of my poems about labor:
Hanford 1944
Logger

Begonia

I went out to water the hanging begonia next to the driveway
I held the hose up for a second and a sparrow darted
away to the maple tree, scolding me. Under the leaves, in a careful
nest of sticks buried in the dirt, I found two eggs the length of one joint
on my little finger, each the color of sky and muddy clay

I stopped watering and checked on them every few days
One morning a brown lump stirred, looked up and snapped open its mouth
like a tiny coin purse. Two days later, two listless lumps with bristle feathers
sticking out. Maybe Mom told them sleep was the best to way to wait for her

The begonia seemed to be take this in stride
Its waxy-ribbed dark green leaves
and coral colored flowers drooped a bit
but they still provided cover for the chicks

Now I’ve become a novitiate of What Comes Next
I hope to be ordained someday but I am actually okay
with staying in the rectory making a sandwich and drinking
iced coffee while the neighbors run their leaf blowers
and Mama bird hunts for bugs in the evening light on Juarez Street

This morning I looked and the nest is empty. I stuck my finger
into the soft pocket and was rewarded with a smear of nutty
smelling baby swallow poop. The Buddhist app on my phone
reminds me with wonderful quotes to follow the Tibetan tradition
of contemplating mortality five times a day. Here is this
morning’s quote:

The graves are full of ruined bones, of speechless death rattles
— Pablo Neruda