Jennifer K. Sweeney

5 O’Clock Poem

Descending the gray nudge of Market Street

            I am heavy in my shoes,

                        a little sack-bent.


The dryness in my throat

            is familiar but not comfortable,

                        my body is familiar but not comfortable.


Most openings are too small to enter,

            but upstream and tired, I fall in

                        achy stone of me exploding like a rose,


some slat of light, some pod of tenderness.

            People look almost real

                        swaying toward the charcoal night into streetcars.


The train is always approaching always pulling out.

            What I mean to say is we live in the illusion

                        of beginnings and endings.


Above ground the trucks are coming

            in a flow of red-turning lights.

                        By a stream in a life that is not mine


a salmon thrusts the silver

            glint of its body

                        up a shallow stream that is pushing it—


can you feel it pushing you?—


                        And what if it gave in


let the exhausted muscle of its being

            ride the way-down current.

                        All these people how hungry they look


and not nearly as guilty as they feel

            shuffling onto the silverlit train cars

                        by ones


as something

            they have been waiting for

                                    has come to take them home.



“5 O’Clock Poem” is from How to Live on Bread and Music (Perugia Press, 2009).