A group of schoolgirls from downstairs laughed,
and then the front door slammed shut.
Maybe the girls went out and took
their humor with them. Crickets
are chirping in the bushes along
the front porch, so maybe the girls stepped
outside and are about to laugh
to scare the crickets off their branches.
Crickets always make the loudest
sound on an early autumn night like tonight.
You don’t burn out your eyes
looking at a star in the middle
of the night. But find it on
a line that lies inside
a constellation, and you’re blind.
“And if you gaze long enough into
an abyss, the abyss gazes back into you.”
I’ve been gazing here for too long a time
to turn my head away, and for too short a time
to match the pair of eyes on the other edge
of the darkness.
It took me until last night
to see how long the shadows cast by
the evergreens along the far side of my lawn
take to reach my front steps.
Out from my uplifted hand,
I release my contraband of
“This is no time to be making new enemies,”
Voltaire said, reclining in his deathbed,
asked by a priest to renounce Lucifer.
Here, I have to concur.
My books are picked up, one by one. The
librarian mutters thanks without conviction.
Tonight, the pages burn in my neighbors’
lanterns. I will not rise in the morning.
I will be asleep, under the darkness
of my sheets, years after my pages
Orange juice laps down Pennsylvania
Avenue, and people touch their lips
to the flood to lap up the pulp.
No one quite knows where
the juice flows from. All that people
know are clues murmured on
gusts of the autumn wind.
With all the townsfolk distracted,
the Pied Piper breaks into homes
and steals away baby photos in a sack.
With no one looking, Fatty Arbuckle
continues his one-man protest
outside the Supreme Court, praying
aloud for an appeal.
He smells citrus in the breeze,
hears the shatter of glass,
and still he stands,
as the townsfolk whisper
next to a river.
“These are the streets I live on,
bitch,” the homeless man says, raising
his first through the fog of his breath.
He speaks to no one in particular,
it seems. He looks out in the direction
of all of them: the businessman in his
parked car dialing his mistress’s number,
the two college students finding
each other’s hands as they walk out of
the abortion clinic, the third grader dumping
pit her pitcher of unsold lemonade into the snow.
Perhaps the man speaks to all of them.
Perhaps he speaks to me, the sixteen year old
down the street with his hands in his pockets,
showing nothing to see. But perhaps he really
does speak to no one, because he turns back
inside the shelter without waiting for a response.
Yet he never lowers his fist.