JAMES SALLIS                     

City at the Country's Still Heart

A city apart, we awaken, you
in your platform bed low as Japanese tables,
there where land has its first thought
of water, I at this high jagged edge.

Hawk-high I peer out over
the city's plain and the chain of
its people rising, their hearts like doors,
doing business, doing business.

This evening I will send for you.
They will come along the street in bright
yellow wagons, in their blue suits, carrying
the warm small birds of my love.


This night,
stretched out like an arm
beneath its lights.

This night
forgetting its name in a thousand mouths.

This night
of bodies: moths at the window,
couple walking hand-in-hand in the street below,
my feet at bed's end like two pale tombstones.

This night
sumptuous with your absence.

June 6th

At 11:01 I listen to Brahms,
drink tea, and wait
to hear from you.

Wellington's Victory ends
at a minute to twelve.
Driving through city lights

and limits, I thought of you
asleep, the long white beach
of your back, dreams

like malformed moons
in whatever sky
vaults above you now.

All battles join at night.
A spider
parachutes onto my desk

from the lamp
and charges across,
the first wave of freedom.

Sheridan Square


Room        sky        hand
and that voice at the door      knocking

Locked in this room      I see people in command of windows
The noise of the city
congeals like mud on their shoes
Gray pigeons wheel up and scatter into blue-green sky
where it's summer

How many times I think
have I turned back      hand
on that door      thoughts crowding behind me on the platform
Turn the handle      the tongue falls like a latch
Compartments open

Now here I am on foot among scattered bags
Taxis ride the plains      I whistle at one to bring it down
Muleskinner and sage
A birch rod dips
toward sacred words     Everything's out of tune Tom

Water?      Rain at least
Me with this useless dwarf's crutch I'm trying to sell
There's little demand      pawnshops and women turn me out
here where it's summer
here where everything's out of tune

where I've tried     j'ai fait
des gestes blancs parmi les solitudes

Taking out ads in The Voice
Renting billboards     Light of communal days coming out from under
the bushel of years

Wanting them
just to stop      but they go on turning

hand     sun     year      room      self



James Sallis is author of the acclaimed Lew Griffin mysteries as well as numerous collections of stories, poems and essays; volumes of musicology; translations; and a biography of Chester Himes. His new novel, Cypress Grove, will be out in the spring.