I knew a boy with swastikas on his sneakers. I never knew the story.
I just shied away. Which gave the cross a power that fed on my failure
to understand. Why the burnt features fix the eye to their pool of red.
Once, when I was older, I saw a Nazi’s face in a shoe. I lifted
the tongue and put my foot in. I must have needed to carry the tale
a little farther, to feel the glass beneath my feet. I cannot know what
leads a man to altar, hungover at a sink, washing the scar of a crucifix
from his hands with lighter fluid. Is the figure in the mirror only as
large as some conspiracy against him. Does he curse the foot he crams
into a military boot, as his back grows rigid, his drugs strong, his eyes
fierce and clear. Or did he shake off the whole nonsense ages ago.
If I met him, would I think, he seems ordinary enough. Would I find him
beside me before a hill of shoes, where we stare in the library quiet
of temples after dark, with so much to remember, and nothing to say.
A forest lies down in the lion whose eyes go a little darker,
greener as they close, as if some great calm has exhausted
its appetite, sated on the last of the monuments and souls
who walk, late, into the hospice of a park. I love the minor
lullabies with the scent of rain inside them. Any wonder
the wilderness in stories opens a gate where the broken go
with their lyres and their antidepressants, their sad anthems
about lions. Where streets bend and taper off into a stupor
of blooms and parasitic vines that migrate from the hills,
a mendicant with a guitar, a pipe, a blanket, the paraphernalia
of survival, makes a music of spare and dissonant proportions.
He reaches into his chest and rummages about for a lighter
to raise. For the shadows of the bridges have all been eaten.
You see their scattered bones afloat the river. You feel them
fade, like notes on a harp. One pull of the gut, and an angel
moth flies out, and then, another, and soon the silhouettes
gather into one struggle and shade, one miscreant and friend,
one great flutter of dust and dark that shivers through the grass.
Once there was an echo who suffered its survivor’s
guilt in silence. Every sound it made reminds me.
A voice could be meat to the appetites of stillness,
and then a smoke ring roars and dies, the clarinet
player dismantles the pieces of her instrument.
On behalf of echoes, I want to say the fading off
is lovely because, if you listen hard, it never comes.
Picture the body far below the mind, the camera,
and as the copter lifts us toward a broader context,
we grow small and enormous. We feel the inevitable
chill of angels. I have felt that in the womb of another.
I curled my body at its altar. A diagnosis could be
the disclosure of a covenant I never knew I made.
Remember, echo, when you were small and unafraid,
stepping into tunnels, walking over cliffs, pressing the lips
of wells, remember the eye with a dime at the bottom.