Tell Me There’s an Artist

(spoiler alert: there is)

Tell me there’s a painting left not aiming for the earth –
A brush not tilted dirtward, swapping mockery for mirth.
Tell me there’s a sculpture left that isn’t undercarved –
A chisel dulled by shallow cuts and subjects heavenstarved.

Tell me there’s a canvas left that’s backlit by some glory –
A fabric for the telling of ambitious human stories.
Tell me there’s a poem left that isn’t ripped apart –
A song that ends connected to the blessing of the start.

Tell me there’s an artist left not driven by deceit –
A human servant building from the places incomplete.
Tell me there’s an artist left who knows his human error –
And tell me there’s a layman left who’ll view it as a prayer.

 

Rabat

Let’s head back to Morocco

Old and New

 

With a hopeful shoulder against
its thousand-year-old brother,
the new city already shows more rust
and abuse than the ancient medina,

which stands straighter than it should
after a millennium of fire and pirates
and the tearless tyrrany of
Mohammed’s intemperate sun.

Fifty years free of France,
the tall cosmopolis outside
the gates wears the fast
age of concrete and exhaust.

The new city wonders, still half
en Français and slouched
in café chairs that face out over
the bruise-blue taxis towards

the red medina walls, what is the
trick to timelessness, and what
do the buried civilizations
around the Bou Regreg have to say

about the way the Arabs
outlasted them all without
having to do much besides wait
and stay and sometimes fight.

Why is there so little left
of the Romans besides
the coins and shields of
martial ghosts that mingle with

Phoenician busts in museums that
the Berbers came before and
built and left and will see
the end of long before their own.

And those few exhumed slabs
of marble left at Chellah, bought
by the shipload for the price
of their own weight in sugar,

what are they worth now
in dirham or dollars or the
(يا الله)
useless euros mocked in the

clacking laughter that rattles like
a call to prayer from the storks atop
the walls of the hammams, and
whose nests crown the minarets.

Blake Island Lullaby

But that’s not the worst of it.

In Lincoln Park
the orcas break

the surface of
the Sound and I

sit down because
I know the look

on the face of
that sky spilling

slyly out from
Blake Island.

It will pour stories into the forest.

But it will tell
them the way you

tell stories to
a baby or a headstone:

	mostly to itself.

2016 (Asking After Your Brothers)

Questions…

They say in the aftermath 
	the evil’s come out
but the evil out there 
	lives in their mouths.

So it’s something to look around
face to face, hue to hue
listen to someone being accused
	...and know...
	...and know...
the opposite’s true.

I think you dig me, Mr. Hughes

And when you said you -
a Kentuckian -
were brothers with an African
that was fine  

and I mean that the good way you would mean it
back in your place and time,
not sarcastic like we do in mine.

But I wondered (this one's harder
	...I know...
	...I know...)
could you have reached your other brotherhand
to secure a little kinship
with a white man?

Talk about fine!

The Street Sweeper

One more for Morocco

 

An angled Arab in a jellaba
as long as the Berber sun and with
tea-stained teeth the color of burnt sand,
stands unlooked at by foreign shoppers
because they all know that eye contact
is a contract that even a shy smile
cannot unbind. They see rugs, cheap jewelry.

The Arab tells a bowl of fish heads
here are more tourists. Another man
pulls a palm frond as bent as his back
over meat scraps, breadcrumbs, and poverty,
sweeping the King’s official decrees
and doubts of his Mohammedan descent
secretly beneath the dusty stones in the souk.

He stands and says bonjour to the kids
(the first guess is always for the French)
But the Americans say assalam
and the students and the Arab find
a few forgotten teeth to frame their
halfshared tongue. They eat the shopkeeper’s
small deceit in the heat of Moorish June.

The price of a dim
dented teapot
diminishes
quickly.

A cat mews and woos the noon-hot bowl
of fish heads but is sent running and spits
its hisses at a moped whose engine
ascends to match the unseen muezzin
his patient call having made its pact with
the long-gowned crowd, reaching unlikely speeds
beneath thin streets and stubborn burqas.

Honey drips long
from a tower of sweets,
making drunk those bees
not already too heavy to fly.

Under the new moon of Al-Andalus
white women weigh the lure of the beach
against what risk they know exists and try
not to be fooled by trust earned in the sun.
A dutiful and deep-eyed olive ibn
is scraping the caramel crust from abu’s table,
closing shop in time for one more prayer.

The Final Bone

Earlier is better.

You can read the cold
in the austerity of porchlights
and the white soul of maple bark
that makes a shy shiver
when it guesses which star
might love it back.

But I am all halogen high beams
in this poor morning.
The final bone of an unwelcome skeleton
that won’t leave its ghost alone.

And here in the city –
with none of the long-sung
undone thunder of somewhere
less given to the living –
I am stung by lone red lights
and the odd mid-block walker
made bold by the madness
of his addictions.

Still.
He moves on.
I do all the stopping.