What does the floor look like
In a place called Rock Bottom?
Does it shine like it shone
in the barracks from the hypnotic drone
of a heavy steel machine and
one or two sleepy soldiers
who cannot but buff and wax
until their standing orders have
a suitable place for standing on?
Does it shine like it shines
at these meetings where the dank black
brew drips and cakes in brown outlines
on a floor whose sheen lacks sharpness
the way it never would if they
hired an old soldier to do the floors
here in the basement of
St. Catherine’s at night?
Is it just an unclever joke?
A place they’ve named Rock Bottom
because there isn’t
a rock to break your teeth on
within an empty bottle’s throw
of anywhere you might be laying?
Is it a floor as flat and fleet and forever
as the dull map of regret
charted in the lineless low-relief
of a place with no noteworthy terrain?
A map of an inch of desert
scaled out in such vast despondence
that the little key in the corner reads
(if you can see it)
1 grain = your whole wasted life.
Or are there really rocks
in the rubble down there – jagged
but germane to the rank poetics
from a beggar’s caustic maw.
Are there really rocks down there
where they tell me time and again
over and over
that I’m in The Right Place?
I remember some rocks, sure.
But I don’t remember a bottom.
I don’t know anyone
who remembers seeing anywhere
beneath the garbage
and the softening teeth
and the shameful things done
for a bottle of any-damn-thing,
seeing anywhere beneath that rancid humiliation
anything that looked like a bottom.
I’m no expert but I think that
my Right Place –
if I have such a thing –
has much better lighting.
And this dead-humming coffee
that I swear would come
crawling up my arm
if I dangled a curious finger in there
wouldn’t make it through the door –
much less onto the floor –
of anyplace that I would call