72: coma, canto 21

canto 21

she said: I need my things,
what things there were,
in this world where foreshadowing
is like a squeak in the dark.

yes, reader, she said,
she needed some things,
and so I followed
her by blocks and blocks
to a hole in the city
out of which blew an electric
scent and the vented winds
of a million exhalations
and the subtle buffet
of a million echoing footsteps
and the sonic tailends
of a million words
whispered or shouted,
and down then we
made our descent.

through turnstiles,
under arches,
weaving with shoulderstrikes
and half-glances
and the crumbly rumble
of underground trains,
like machine whales threading,
down another passage,
another whose decline
I could feel under my shoes,
to a wall
with an arched portal,
where I stopped
and stopped
and Lucy turned to me, smiled,
took both my hands,
and we crossed together
first into lamplit quiet,
then into a great passage
where, along the walls
other peoples
sat, lay, placed cards down,
roamed into and out of tents,
yellow on the inside with sourceless
light, and hands darted,
hands longfingered, attached to the bodies
of fast-snatching snakes, all the while,
from the ceiling drifted
a soft ash, a soft dust,
and the rumors of life
under the sun.

now with my hand
in Lucy’s hand, leading,
we went further still,
men watching,
women watching,
there a man and a woman
weaving baskets for sale
under the light from a handcranked box,
there two small children with a mouse
in a cage,
there men and women
haggling over a box
of apples,
now, a man with long
legs and in a black jacket
said, Let me show
you let me show you
let me show you,
and I said, Show me what?
and Lucy pulled me away, saying
Just stay away from the knives.

we approached what looked like a bunker,
a place imprisoned by concrete walls,
who knows its original meaning,
and, yes, a tag in the third person,
writings above the portal-in that said:
This is Thor’s place.
If you come in I will hunt you down.
Just ask Leon. Just ask Jim.
We entered and Lucy, who perhaps
was queen of this place,
this place where the unemployed
eventually made their way,
the sick or insane,
and more likely to come,
this place of handcranked,
handcrafted light,
this place where I saw a woman
doing hair, this place whose
heat came from the radiations of closeness,
whose smell of moist stone
whose smell of human waste
whose smell of mint (yes mintiness)
whose grays, blacks, and reds
emerged in blocky shapes,
corners, and cracks in the walls
and where rope was used
for cordoning, where men and women
used refrigerator boxes for bedrooms,
where clusters of humans
were red-yellow lit by small fires
or flashlights, where small mirrors
made the little light bigger,
there in Thor’s Place on the walls,
there on the walls on racks
there against the walls in milk crates
my television, my CDs, my expensive
wires and all the other objects
of Thor’s nightly work waited
for his return,
all protected by a single sign,
a sign that threatened the hunt,
and the last memory of Leon and Jim.

just a few things, I need,
Lucy said, with her small hands
working, her eyes going here,
there, her small gray frame
moving fast, and then she approached
me with a bag over her shoulder,
filled with whatever things she needed.
Just a few things, she whispered.
The rest of it, you can have it back
if you want it, she said,
and I whispered nothing,
shook my head,
and when I turned,
there, yes there, in the fresher light
of this great sunless, starless hall,
a large man with a knife
had been slashing at my back
all this time I’d been watching Lucy,
slashing at the air
inches from my shoulders,
just slashing.
When I turned, when Lucy
and I moved at him
he backed, slashing,
slashing stall, each slash
making a song note
of wounded air,
then he motioned, ducked,
and we made our way
through carts, card tables,
coffee brewing,
smoke and ghost hands batting at it,
radios telling stories,
children clapping,
grandmothers and grandfathers
shuffling with unsurmiseable eyes
from one lamp
to another lamp,
stepped over trails of urine,
stepped around piles
of clothes,
in this underworld
in this place turned
weather or disaster shelter
but the bad weather
or the disaster never diminished
and there was nothing
to return to after the passing of the storm,
no agency to deliver lunch,
no church made for saving,
no retreating of the flood waters
or trucks to come and haul
away the broken wood,
cut clean the fallen trees
for rebuilding.

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