Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2020  Vol. 19 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Three Versions of an Underpass, Somewhere outside Houston

invocation, 1982

Another century, and so of your lesser storms, memory,
cued to sightless lightning,
no voice to crawl back into
and pull over like a sweater,

this is an overpass bridge,
this memory is of shelter,
cry memory, cry our twice-same memory,
this memory is no shelter,

our city, any, always so far away
it doesn’t deserve a name
and to ask too much of you is a crime.
Before we run out of time,

look at us, we’re you, memory, head to toe,
we, our ideas of possibility, laughing your lightning away,
we frozen serially by your headlights
there in a highway rain cave also you.

The alternator is as good as gone,
secure in our utopic obscurity.
Your headlights, not ours, are remote, seraphic.
Eighteen wheels cry highway, highway,

the purchase they gain croons a crying lullaby.
Memory, stop crying out this nowhere highway,
tow truck, come to us soon,
memory, please end yourself again, again.

Again, again your shelter takes us in.
Memory, is this why we have glided to a stop,
so that we can relive the good return
and bear up again like a rebuilt part?

Did night have anything to do with us?
What did the truck lights and streetlights
have against the night
as they barreled into and out of us,

was darkness not acceptable to you?
On the banks of a river of metal,
river of living history and speed
we forgettings will never cross safely,

burn up our hope, cry us again—


with apologies

That this poem commit thievery and conspire with survival, as memories command,
as lasting love demands. That we make you, memory, betray us
till scale betrays us: then no trace of us except the car lights, the continuous,
existence and non-existence, darkness and light generation after generation,
and no memory not soaked to the soul, no theory that nothing is something.
With only the wind hiding in the wind, we were pretty true then,
and the world if we considered it at all was there for us to feel looked after,
ageless students of tradition and of experiment: of power.
Which remembers always to see things in relation to itself.
Or why else did it seem to us that those truck lights fed on power,
or that the lives lost to our own sympathies behind any truck lights we could see
had a lot to do with our
watching rain spill over a ramp from another freeway for our roof, rain for curtains,
the traffic seeing through, seeing us through such a memory, such a rumbling one,
even to love,
that in life is the core of life,
this one,
there where I could stay as transfixed, looking back at the two of us, forever,
eternal instant of you
shining like an ax blade seen coming down on all the rest of memory
that more life would simply slash away, to get by
anyway life must,
while the past and future blow through us as one indecisive present.



It never was, memory, though if it never was
what a non-existence, what a clutter of glad, sad
that never was a memory per se,
that is, the concept is delusory,
we have the words and the words have us
and their echoes always ring conceptually
and time is running up and down and sideways here
and our glad pause in the Houston rain
never happened, this was a composite
of a pretty bad rain that stranded our Houston arrival in Gaylord,
and a rain that left me under an overpass in Colorado
for an entire night, and an unlikely rain that stopped us
well outside El Paso, just before Van Lord,
and our very own Houston hurricane, named after my mother, I’m sure, Alicia
that blew out a third of the windows in Emerald City
and sent rain vertically and turned our limb-bombarded streets into
a feeling that you were walking across the tops of trees
without an inkling of what then was still an untold story of unprecedented rain,
fifty-storied inches and us watching the tube, passing even past Fox
which to diminish disaster concentrated on poor people
seeming to suggest that, hell, they look homeless anyway
they may as well be homeless,
and all those post-human aerials that made earth
seem a planet of insentience
pushing its way around like, frankly, an insane president,
saying look at me, I’m bigger than you,
your city of memory is a city of nowhere,
water is everywhere as I am everywhere
saying you can’t do anything because I am the Unchosen.
And we look, mere voters, and being nobodies on the net
and liking it that way,
hate the earth at its worst as we hate the hateful,
but this was to be a poem about gladness.
I praise friends’ houses up to their teeth in push,
I praise Susan moving her car and looking out upon her whole
life on this planet,
for I can practically hear her typing an email “all this water
not a word more,
and I base this vignette of Susan on personal memories of Susan,
last of us to stay on here,
and yet other unspecifiable memories of, say, the pushy inklings
that our feeling-looked-after was wondrous brief,
two people stalled inside the twentieth century
stuck gladly under one of its Apollonian marvels, a highway overpass
placed near Houston, a city I loved, like strange loves strange,
years later surprised to be worried sick over, on some general
even collectively humanized basis that had vivid personal details galore
I won’t go into,
though the feel of connection was not even remotely as unreal
as anything that comes by way of TV, including political monsters
however real, but excluding this latest flood however personally
you are able to take it.
But then I wasn’t thinking about the future.
I see just us in the old Maverick David and Lynda named Blue Thunder
after the hero, a car, of a forgettable film that can stay that way,
our first car, that convalesced ad infinitum in our days there
as students of the art of poetry,
which I believe that I am practicing
so that you can believe
if in nothing then in this spurious memory composed of impressionable slivers
of us again with a wreck of a Maverick
this time in Houston, let’s go ahead and place us, say, on US 10
just after Gaylord, maybe, as that authentically happened, so
let’s add a pair of fictive golden arches in the fictive pouring rain,
they look sincere enough to me.
And let’s call the sublime the counter-sublime
to be ornamented
with cultural markers so we can understand one another,
so as to bequeath our twentieth century and to the ear of memory
to say with fear and with any incidental courage
we were as two once
who didn’t think to think that all this life,
all this everywhere,
the duration of whatever we are,
was beyond us.  

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