—after Adrian Matejka, Ernesto Mercer
I know it‟s wrong to stare, but it’s Tuesday,
The express is going local, and this woman’s
Thighs—cocoa-buttered, crossed, and stacked
To her chin—are the only beauty I think I’ll see
For the next forty minutes. Not the train’s
Muttering junkie, who pauses a little too long
In front of me, dozing, but never losing balance.
Not the rat we notice scurry past the closing doors,
Terrorizing the rush hour platform. Not
Even these five old Black men, harmonizing
About begging and pride, about a woman
Who won’t come home. But skin, refracted
Light, and the hem’s hard mysteries. I imagine
There‟s a man somewhere in this city, working
Up the nerve to beg this woman home, the sweet
Reconciliation of sweat on sweat, and pride
Not even afterthought. My own woman, who
I‟ve begged sometimes not to leave, and begged
Sometimes please to leave, never has, also waits,
Uptown, in a fourth floor walk-up, in an old t-shirt
For me to make it back. She waits for me to come
Through jungles, over rivers, out from underground.
She waits, without fear, knowing no matter what,
I will make it home. And, God, there were times
I probably shouldn’t have, but did, and lived
To see this day, the junkies, rats, and thighs,
And I say, praise it all. Even this ride, its every
Bump and stall, and each funky body pressed
To another, sweat earned over hours, bent over moats,
Caged in cubicles, and after it all, the pouring
Of us, like scotch, into daylight. Dusk.
Rush hour. This long trip home. Praise it all.
The dead miss out on summer. The sun
Bouncing off moving trains and a woman
To love you when you get inside. Somewhere
In this city, a man will plead for love gone,
Another chance, and think himself miserable.
He’ll know, somewhere deep, ye may never
Win her back. But he’ll know, even deeper,
That there is a kind of joy in the begging
Itself, that all songs are love songs. Blues,
Especially. Praise the knowledge. Praise
The opening and closing doors, the ascent
Into light, heat, each sidewalk square, cracks
And all, the hundred and twelve stairs between
Lobby and my woman’s front door, the exact
Moment, I let in this city, let out this sweat,
And come to own this mighty, mighty joy.
“Song” was first published in Verse Wisconsin, Winter 2010, and appears in Up Jump the Boogie (Cypher Books, 2010).