The progression always draws me in,
even if it’s a neo-country number
that’ll leave me empty with lyrics
I’ll forget as soon as Katie, who
finishes her name with a tumbled
heart, serves me my last beer
and orange slice.
Happy birthday; it’s Reunification Day,
it’s the eve of the anniversary of my father
getting one boot shined in a village
called Phu Hoa Dong, where 45 years
later I smelled rain between incense breaths.
So, yo, chai yo, kanpai and na zdravi
with my orange slice to the night behind
the wall of televisions over my head
on the way to the “Stand 2 Pee.”
“The wings are good.” That’s what
they always say about places with
midriff and hot pants wait staff.
Actually, the wings are good
and Katie with the sideways heart
is nice, even when I order
the girl-sized beer.
I wonder if she
notices the movements
of the songs she hears every shift.
One, five, four, one—that’s a change
that floats me over river scenes
and lands me in firefly fields.
“Come on Down to my Boat” was
one from Every Mother’s Son, the same
year I became a mother’s son.
Let’s make a movie with a soundtrack
of nothing but songs that move the same.
We’ll watch the faces of the leaving audience
after the last scene, a lingering shot of a sad,
drunken orange slice who always falls
for flat sevens and tumbled hearts.
“I don’t dream.”
“Sure you do.”
The man was thin with subtle, occasional lines of grey in his combed-over, black hair. His face was dark and starting to crack, perhaps from standing outside much of day. He didn’t look at me when he corrected me, but just continued to stare into the street.
“Everybody dreams. You just don’t remember.” He cut his eyes at me for a second. “Why did you tell me this?”
“Because you’re the only other person standing at this corner.”
“I was here first.”
“Can’t we share the corner?”
He nodded and followed a passing cyclo with his eyes. A schoolgirl in an ao dai rolled her bicycle over his toes and he didn’t flinch.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“I enjoy the traffic. All the motorcycles with their headlights at dusk and ladies sidesaddle. It’s like a chrome and rubber carousel. I like the neon, too. The neon’s best at dusk.”
“You are strange, my friend.”
Valentine’s shots all around. Pair off; the drinks
are pink and pretty and so were you in the blue
glow of emergency phone boxes lined up
like a carnival midway waiting for me to lose
everything for one double-sax bass slide
moment next to you.
We could’ve danced
in that parking lot like we
should’ve danced at the Terrace
Theater back in ’94 as Sandman
leaned into his bullet mic, transmitting
electric whiskey sapphire truth into
the streets of Austin.
The room was hot for March,
but nothing like Palestrina in ’99.
We might have danced there, too,
until we heard the two-string Premiere hit the stage,
shaking loose our near kiss with a rumble
as we looked up to see his feedback departure.
But we would never dance in this room
where the piano chords have an urgency,
like crying. “Where are you going? Where
are you going?”
The bass walks
the backwards walk of running
toward someone leaving,
someone gone long enough
to be a sepia thought.
The Korean sushi chef smiles
as I give a thumbs up. The sashimi is good
but the bass could lose a string or two.
We were at someone’s house, decorated
like a birthday cake; upstairs room on a fondant
bed, a mirror hanging over where I saw the us
we were, the us we’ve never been.
The most we’ve ever touched in waking,
sober moments was across dinner, your
fingers pressed into mine. “Feel how cold
my hands are,” you had said.
The only time your hair has fallen
over your eyes for me
was outside the Turkish restaurant; you
were the color in a gray scene,
leaning against your car as a prodigal
wind from a distant hurricane
nearly took you from me.
I can’t recall the chill of your palms;
I’ve lost the parking lot conversation.
But the way we kissed long in the cake
house leaves me as thirsty at waking
as the first hour of a day-long hangover.
And the lingering ache is there, always
in 6/8 and fading as slowly as a tattooed
reflection of tequila strangers at another
table, salty lips and eyes crossed from faces
as close as yours was to mine in a frosting
I’ll feel how beautiful
you were for days.
In every dream, there’s at least one tender
moment. I suppose that’s some kind
of Valentine; not as red and bright
as a drugstore aisle, but with a candle
lamp’s flicker of sugar, pain and commerce.
I swallow as the hiss and piano
from a cassette she mailed to me in the fall
play over the memory, but even an adolescent
music box rendition of “The Hands of Time”
is better suited for dying
football player scenes.
There was no soundtrack for our moment, nothing
but the pounding of my heart and perhaps a satisfied
sigh from her older cousin who, with her dark ringlets
and high school curves, had as much of my attention
a few feet down the drive, smiling at us after she
had guaranteed the moment with a sisterly nudge.
I want to take another piece of bread, soak
it and savor it as I walk back to my chair,
before the music and Eucharist end.
Instead, I try to remember the taste.
Feeling the need for a scene with more interesting neon.
Luminous gas patterns I can’t decipher; mystery glow
legends of a city I haven’t yet met with its sewer-deep
stories behind night market glances at a stranger,
weary-ridden by Lonely
with her willow tree hair,
and empty kisses.
Needing the feel of a scene with asphalt warmer
than where I can’t recall the last time I saw the streets
breathe, but wind leaves my lungs white and congee thick.
“There’s no neon in the desert. You’re talking crazier
than the last time I gave you a ride.”
“I’m sober tonight, Mauricio. Can we hear
‘I Started a Joke’ again?”