for chelsea stratford

richmond road moans at night, i promise,
but it’s still so dark:

do you remember when we lived behind captain george’s?
all you can eat seafood,

but i never ate there, i didn’t have
money.

that was a strange year,
like a suitcase full of old shoes,
packed tight and incoherent—spain, even:

do you know spain?

i am there again, i think,
only now it’s the cape:

it’s stef bos songs
(ek lag in ’n bed in ’n kamer
in kloofstraat),
because i am in love

with at least fifteen
or three hundred people—
shame, man.

richmond road is pretty by dusk;
you can see camp’s bay from high,
and the houses in bo-kaap glitter like

jewels, trees

like a storybook
cartoon.

prestwich street, cape town

cape town is too fine:
you can walk around here, you
know, and be safe.

really, none of us
should be safe here: i try not
to think about that,

the tavern of the
seas founded on the bright blood
of peaceful people.

none of us are safe
from history, but if we
don’t at least get mugged

is that fair? on the
other hand, why should the sun
not shine on bad men?

it would be too much
to ask table mountain to
fall into the sea

because of jan van
riebeeck or anyone else:
he was not so strong.

nature cannot be
an allegory in this place
except selfishly;

a cold comfort to
know that even if mandela
had died bitterly

off the harbor, the
cape would still be prettier
than anyone

deserves.

for alex la guma

i suppose i am still not local enough
to stop seeing it,

to stop seeing things and thinking
straightaway
of the country.

walking back to the res late
(almost midnight)

thinking of struggle songs
(ayesab’ amagwala)

like a dream, passing in front

too far ahead
to have been seen

and you think:
were they really there?

marching and protesting and
of course i felt the surreality of it all

as a metaphor for the country,
why not?
(ayesab’ amagwala)

or those beautiful people
at scout hall:

could it really have been they
who met me on the road later

when the stars were high?
in both cases

i was on
african street.

emmarentia dam

nothing hurts when you’re in emmarentia,
how could it? if it did, that’s proof enough
you weren’t really there, were you?

you were like one of those egyptian geese,
never really anywhere. as for me, i was
on those endless golden lawns

of lifeless grass, thinking of how little
i did to deserve it, emmarentia.
and i spent the whole day with my

sweater inside out, can you imagine?
the tag hanging out in back—i was in
holy places, you should know;

i was in parktown. and i still thought
of you—even here, even after all this,
it didn’t hurt to do it even,

emmarentia. thinking all the time,
what secret spirit drove me to this place—
out of the snow, no less, so many years

ago? so i hate to disobey my demons—
they knew me better than i could have known.

nothing hurts in emmarentia—

and i love you, i wish
you knew it.

johannesburg city library

go south, go all the way south,
south as you can, till the sun shine

low; escape the whole idea of a horizon,
find the fragrant evil city full of stolen hoards

find the quiet streets of that place,
the listless dying leaves of rows of winter trees

strike upon that place and sign your name—
bastard city in the sky and leave

your heart there, where the devil can drown
it in a hundred years of skokiaan and Nik Naks

and keep it safe.

beauty is so much like the ocean;
Johannesburg is very far away.

(but out beyond the Protectorate
far beyond the dorsland

walk in the opposite direction
of beauty and good sense

for as long as you can)
then you waken once:

look, the boxy buildings and
the corpse of the highveld:

look and be seduced.

 

for herman bosman

night traveler, Rio Grande
the street swept clean by
howling sheets of rain,
feet about gone, head full
of Fordsburg, belly full of
lager,

thinking of the royalty of flesh—
how it was you wrote it,
how it was i read.

i was grading papers on Sunday afternoon,
drinking dregs of tea, and in he came, like
a blind date, as if we did not belong to a past—
Phoebe, the only two syllables i ever needed
to feel i lived and also like i died.

swanning through Texas like old friends, what did
she know, this new partner of his? i don’t think
much, Moneta and all that,
to say nothing of Lynchburg,
how could she know?

but there we were and all of it was fine.
scorching heat on Mount Bonnell,
but it rained while we were eating.
who could understand? no use in it,
we were always close,
weren’t we?

and i almost dropped him from a great height;
that was long ago.

like old friends,
stories never ever really end
and like old friends,
nothing can be trusted to remain
as it was,

but mostly life is kind to those who breathe
mostly it will comfort those who wait.

wonju street

the whole day was lost to worry
and so on for three odd years.

they tell me to stay detached,
how does that work?

if i could not drown in things i know
why would i leave the house?

in mornings when the sun sends shards
of light at my head from the eastern

windows where i lie on
my many dawn lusts:

your great eyes and easy and
naked drunken light?

in evenings when the sky goes dark
before its time, six o’clock maybe,

and after lashings of rain pass seems to
reel backwards before the sunset into

the pale torpor of an afternoon that
that could not have existed?

the core of the world is doom
like magma the color of blood

never more than a couple miles
below my feet

and the ground is a worrisome place;
there is no time for irony.

vanish down the canyon of fate
or do so with eyes shut

is the only choice we really ever have—
easy days and friendless nights

slow little towns in nowhere and journeys
so often untaken

unrequited feelings and
uncertain twenty-four year old dreams—
why would i love all this,

is the wrong question, darling.
why wouldn’t i?

for findlay, ohio

lying by a picnic table
in the belly of the night

somewhere so nondescript
it was in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan
all at the same time:

a town with a name
like Fayetteville
you know is everywhere

having wandered through rain
through thin corridors
of oaks not yet in leaf

he was trying to think of
somewhere better than
between sodden cotton

and whatever else;
Wild Turkey in a little
plastic bottle

but realized he only
imagined elsewhere in
a certain kind of way:

disembodied like a
waking dream, silent
with distant music

and no voices there,
but time maybe,
time maybe finally.

thinking what if
beauty was actually
not having to think

all the time about picturesque
desolations and stolen moments
or ambient music and the psalm

nisi dominus aedificaverit;
but a loud place, full of
people instead of images.

vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere:
imagine instead
a cacophony of voices

and the pleasure of motion
non confundetur cum loquetur
inimicis suis in porta, do you see?

it need not be so grey.
enamor yourself with
neighbors, he thought.

sleeping on gravel
in a lonely wayside park
somewhere unknown

wishing for horizons on
his back, but seeing only
the faint furrows of low cloud

and the pathlessness of space beyond
the rain.

parham road, henrico

(i called you last night late
because i’m going mad)

the sun comes down but the frogs
can’t rest because they know, the chain link
fence around the yard disappearing into
the mute lascivious grass. thunder as an abstract
concept, thunder as the truth;
lightning as a five year plan or
lightning as your meal.

(it was dark and
had rained; the mountain

was not there, just suburban
gloom. and the storm came)

first the sun goes down but you can still see fine:
you can take your glasses off and see a green sky,
the air shuddering in place with its own guilt,
full of noisome shame; wind but no rustling,
thunder somewhere close but nothing yet.
finally the obesity of drops, the rain left in
the faucet from last time.

(i called you last night
knowing that the worst was

going on. and madness means
knowing that but

it not stopping. i’m sorry
to be how i am)

and the storm rose like an exhumed body from
the harbor bottom, matted and vengeful,
drenching the world in souvenirs of its bondage,
its place where it had been, as if to say i was not
in the water, i was in drowning, and this is not
water, but what drowning is.
you tripped and fell in the sodden
immensity of the hillside

and you did not leave until the next morning;
not until it all stopped.

because you hoped
to leach into the soil, probably,
if you stayed still.

or you hoped for someone
to come get you,
but no one even knew
you were there.

(i called you last night. i’m sorry;
this is very probably the end.

i was curious how long
i could last;

it’s okay,

it’s okay—

in hyattsville

truth be told, i do so little good for this world;
far below my share, mostly think about
getting married.

mostly walk alone familiar roads, mostly seek
the same old spirits out, wish for when i
finally settle down.

mostly dream unfashionable dreams, houses and
children and a thousand things like that: i impress
myself with the smallness of my hope—

three acres in Highland and someone who
can stand me, i think, you would never hear from me
again.

this is how i sleep at night; can you believe that shit?
spend your life trying to figure out the
endless child in you:

finicky and petty thing, a heart.
it would invent miseries
no matter what you have.

and as parent to yourself, you spend a life
feeding what never stays fed, even dreaming modestly you
almost lose your mind

for what? for a golden hill, the laughter of a featureless woman
yet unknown, for what gladness might be—
but what is gladness really

if it always just might be?