James Allen Hall

Portrait of My Lover Singing in Traffic

Man rushing onto Sunrise Boulevard, singing Disorder
in the Flesh: first threadbare notes, then his trousers
stunning the air—man singing the Jackknifed Torso,
Stabbed Back songs, man jerking between rows of cars,
people locking their doors, their faces ashen
when at last his shirt comes off. Wind carrying the ripped bar
of fabric to the sidewalk where I catch him, fitting fingers
to places his skin had been. Man rushing into traffic
losing his shoes, their holes like something singed.
Then his underwear. Then he’s naked, I Ain’t Got No Body.
Everyone watching, moving their lips, the train guards
lowering the song of the mechanical flashing arm,
stopping all of us. The muscle of him unstoppable,
uncontrollable song. Sirens reddening air,
a mouth opening back the counterweight song, I Been Rent
By Tougher Men, which becomes so quickly the Gravelmouth,
the Spreadleg, the Ribkicked song, which gives way behind glass
in the police cruiser to the I’ve Been Your Bulletproof
Piece of Ass, Now Take Me to Where I’ll Die
in Shadow song. Inside my shattershot skin I sing
the broken ballads my mother taught me: My Body Severed
in Fogsway, the Derailed Train is My Shepherd,
I Shall Not Want, her voice audible even under all that
copmuscle and metal, singing the Song of Stained
and Never More Beautiful Than Criminal, and the man
is my mother, I’m filled with want. The lyrics are rushing
unbidden out of me, joining the shirtless choir in the street,
all hands locking, webbed behind the head, face between the legs
kicked apart, singing Don’t Grieve So Open,
in motherless tones, right on through from the beginning.

James Allen Hall
“Portrait of My Lover Singing in Traffic” is from Now You’re the Enemy (University of Arkansas Press, 2008).