Even in the tortured city, morning comes.
And even the ice concealing the form
will feel the sun, and melt, and reveal
a man twice-born, given breath, made real.
But such a grand notion seems fit for dreams
when even the yearning for peace,
and a place to call home,
has frozen solid, like a great river
that can’t move all winter to the sea.
Let’s call the frozen form, once-born,
a poker player, way down on his luck,
and place him at a table in Atlantic City.
Say he’s down to his last couple of bucks
and facing the final hand before dawn.
He won't take the risk and go all-in,
but somehow he’s too proud to fold,
take what he has left into the street,
and try to survive another day.
What will our poor poker player do?
Whether or not anyone asked for it,
the gates of hell have broken open,
and from the shell-shocked look on the man’s face,
anyone as well-stocked as he happens to be
in the records of the battered and broken-hearted
would know at a glance the contents, or lack thereof,
of this man’s heart, and how those contents
have been strewn across the continent
like abandoned belongings
dropped at random out of a plane.
Where do all those forgotten things go?
Wherever wind and gravity take them.
This frozen figure, this poker player,
he thought he knew every inch of the iced-over river.
He better start thinking again.
He better start praying again to be born
out of the womb of the weirdly lit casino
into the tortured city in the morning light.
Help me to hear the song
on its way to hope.
Help me to grasp the hand
on its way to union.
Help me to trust the tears
on its way to peace.
Help me to be the tunnel
on its way to love.
Stuck, trapped, constricted. Steel bars preventing the imprisoned spirit from breathing the pure air of freedom. Never has the man relished less the old dog-haired sock of his own company, but it’s the only company he keeps. Call it a habit of keeping unorthodox hours. But it’s his job, five nights a week, to stay awake until dawn while the inhabitants of the house sleep, which means he is not really alone. He can’t howl and scream as he wishes, can’t sing ‘Landslide’ off-key and weep uncontrollably, if he wants to keep the job. Which is a big ‘if.’ He feels as if his soul is in traction, as if he’s been gagged and strapped to a cold comfortless bed. Even so, blessed for now with healthy legs and feet, he is able some nights before going in for his midnight shift, to slip past the imaginary guard that haunts his apartment door, and find his way down to the park in the museum district. There he jogs around the golf course, where each tall lamp, with its reliable measured distance from the last, serves as his salvation from the dark. But running only tightens the tendons, strains the muscles and joints. On a superficial level it may temporarily relieve the intensity of his suffering, but it furthers hardens a body that desperately needs to soften. Around and around the man goes, circling like a vulture, but he gets no closer to the food he seeks—the deep-bellied sustenance of Joy, the full-bodied nurturance of Peace. There is no sweet or savory fare his hands can bring to the table of thanksgiving, no good and gracious word his voice can share at the table of happy relatedness. Indeed, pressed into his cramped corner, the man hates that such tables exist. Call this wretch an indentured servant to some absurdly misdirected notion of persistence. Call him sorely deficient in Vitamin D. Surely a little sunshine wouldn’t hurt. But he is ashamed to show his face in the glaring light of day, his face with its burn scars and hollow sockets, with its prematurely lined forehead and ravaged eyes from which the light dies a little more with each passing night.
The nights don’t get easier. They are still as lethal to illusion as ever. Lethal too to every truth that rings false to the hooded Ruler who demands obedience to their dominant mood. The heart weakens under the spell of their dark magic. She can’t recall a single hour when she felt glad or at ease. The skin forgets what it feels like to be touched by the rays of the sun. And wasn’t the whole body once touched, held in an embrace the sun itself had to envy, since she didn’t know what the moon knew, she wasn’t witness to the two lovers entwined in each other’s arms beneath the stars? What comes as a gift comes with so much more than strings attached. Comes like a strange ship to a new land, to bestow trinkets of silver and gold and then to pillage and slaughter and traumatize the native soil and the native souls. What comes as a gift comes with the knowledge, whether affirmed or denied, that it will not last. The expiration date is unreadable, but it is certainly there, smudged on the bottom of the glass bottle. It is all a man can do to hold fast to a few ancient lines. Blessed are those who mourn. Sorrow is better than laughter. But worst are the nights when tears do not come, when the face stays frozen in a grim posture of joyless resolve. So let the tears come, and let them burn clean. Not to make the nights any easier, but to give them over to what is real. For it was not too long ago we held each other in an embrace we forced the sun to envy, and now each of us is alone, each and every night. And only tears, in all their wordless power, acknowledge the truth this knowledge brings.