One Pearl

By James Davis May

John Weir! Remember when you used to call yourself
the sodomite at my window? Houston
was so odd. Every mile the same pattern.
A strip mall with a strip club, a school,
then a mansion next to a tire factory—
all repeating themselves like the background
of some Saturday morning cartoon chase.
Before I left, it seemed I was always searching
for someone else’s lost dog, nearly falling
on the sidewalk’s confusion of acorns.
And Atlanta? No sodomites like you here.
Today the azaleas’ birthday-cake pink
materialized suddenly as cards
shooting out from a magician’s palm. Wait.
Is that clear? Just understand they’re beautiful,
that I’m tired of clarity, of condescending
marble statues, of being tired of being tired.
Tonight’s guest speaker quoted a mime
who reportedly said, “One pearl is better
than a whole necklace of potatoes.”
A woman nodded, a man made a sound
that sounded like polite pleasure.
And in the cocktail party that follows
all those pretty words, here I am
on the porch, my left ear faintly lit
and half in New York. Because I dept dropping
cracker crumbs into my wine. Because
someone else asked me if I was Fiction
or Poetry. I’d ask how you are, but I know
you hate yourself and want to die.
I too have stolen much, and in the great circle
of folding chairs crushing the oriental rug,
I’ve retold the stories and jokes of others,
as if my own, usurping the obligatory laughter.
I don’t know how one gets away with beauty
or grace or, I worry, how to admire art
without wanting to have made it myself.

But, then again, I know a building downtown
(or the stunted beginnings of one),
which no one’s worked on since a storm
gutted the city six months ago; and so,
the structure—it’s only beams, no walls—
is open to the wind that lifts and spins
the newly loose things I cannot see
into a peal, a soft desultory chime
like many singular keys falling at once.
And in Krakow, every hour starts
with a broken progression of notes replayed.
Because, sounding the alarm centuries ago,
a trumpeter took an arrow through the throat.
When I hear it, I feel sad. Though it’s awkward.
Though through the acid wash of a migraine
I walked past a group of German students
chanting “Po-tate-o” until they broke
into guttural laughter below the basilica
from which, sometimes, the trumpeter waves.
Maye the unfinished, maybe the fractured.
Maybe what the friend of the dead poet,
a poet himself, asked: “to forgive so much
that poor obscure-baffled Thing, —
But the crowd of blazers
and frizzy hair exits en masse, releasing
a puff of rank praise and nepotism
into the midnight air. So I move
toward the dogwood, the goldenrod, the irises,
that, if I could, I’d describe for you,
my gentle-hearted friend, how they all stay
where they are. No, how they all seem content.
No, not even that. I’d describe them all
as if it mattered. As if it didn’t not.

James Davis May is the author of the poetry collection Unquiet Things. He lives in Macon, Georgia.

Originally published in NOR 8

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