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Blackout Starlight

At the base of a leg
of smoke

     on which the heaven of Los Angeles
     stands, a man

is burning
the unidentified remains

     of a chair
     in a can, and his shadow

grows tall
against the warehouse wall

     behind his eyes.
     Another man joins him,

and in the distance you
hear a siren,

     a dog,
     and then another,

and the whispered sea of the interstate
coming ashore.

     In other words
     a kinship of silhouettes

and voices
falls over the talk and inner lives

     of those who otherwise might appear
     left out

of the larger conversation.
I read once

     fire came to the center
     of our social circle

for this: before it cooked our meats
it held

     our fascination. It held us.
     And then the howling,

and a man shares a hit
of smoke

     with a man swept
     with the others from the center

of town.
The new money is buying

     up the old
     and the rents that sweep

beds from these apartments,
and the mission

     is full,
     and the flames keep breaking

some local ordinance
to pieces

     like a chair.
     Just today the one man sat

through a sermon
in a parking lot

     because it came with coffee
     and a roll

and a city of angels
that had no suffering.

     Only strangers
     to their experience

on earth.
It felt like a story told

     over the fire.
     The stars taking aim

among the copters with their needles
of light.

     Something in the sermon's voice rose
     with a clarity

foreign to smoke.
It helps some. The coffee

     is hot.
     And the new money keeps burning

a hole in the pockets
of Los Angeles

     where land is cheap and people
     move along

a step ahead of the law and the seasons.
Welcome to paradise,

     says the postcard of a beach
     in the fire.

And as it crumples, nothing

     Nothing moves an address
     like that,

where the streets are swept each morning
by machine.

     There is a better world,

and the darkness of the warehouse wall
ebbs a little

     as the ashes rise.
     Whatever the medication, it is always

wearing off.
Whatever the angel

     dust that falls from the construction,
     power is always

hungry, thin,
gone the way of white powders

     in the high rise
     and the air above the earth movers

coming to rest.
Any pretense here of the whole

     gives way to the perspective

of a man or two.
Beside the empty warehouse,

     words and silences get exchanged
     like cash

buying cash,
and the larger conversation

     is less a conversation
     then the ghost of elsewhere

thumping in a black

     the windows the mirror of our own

One's own hand could be shaking
for some

     unspoken reason.
     One man could hear the siren spread,

dog to dog, and laugh
with another,

     and what the hell.
     Time to put the whole enchilada

the chair and the missing man

     it held,
     the leg with its claw,

the arm
curved like a broken overpass.

     for the part that never was a chair.

It is now.
Fire makes it so

     and so mails the postcard back
     to where it came from,

to St. Peter
at the electric gate,

     beyond the local ordinance that is the space
     around a heaven,

that keeps it safe.
Put it in,

     the angel and the machine and the ball
     that drops

through the wall of the tenement,
the bright flock

     that scatters like a window.
     Put them all in,

the way a dog puts it all
in the cry

     we call his,
     though something the size of the whole

is happening to him,

     —echo untouched by echo,
     throat by throat—

something of the whole heart
cut out

     of hiding, the deep red part
     hurled into the dark

like meat
to the wall,

     and the shadows roar.

Bruce Bond

Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems, 1997-2015
LSU Press

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