By Craig van Rooyen
Featured Art: Flowers of a Hundred Worlds (Momoyogusa): Wisteria (Fuji) by Kamisaka Sekka 神坂 雪佳
In a strange city this afternoon, I looked for myself
on a cart of bargain books. I recognized
my mother’s faith and thrift in “Macrame for Dummies,”
and bought the book for 50 cents.
I recognized my father’s dark devotion
in a tattered copy of “My Utmost For His Highest.”
I fanned the pages with a thumb, felt
the dank breath of the Holy Ghost,
and put it down. I was not there. Not in
“Seven Habits Of Ecstatic Gurus.” Not in
“How To Pick Up Pretty Women With An Ugly Dog”
or “Twitterpated: An Instruction Manual
For Self-Discovery In 140 Characters Or Less.”
On the corner, a quartet of starving students played
“Let’s Get Lost,” faking it in the way of the talented young
winking with their instruments at the business casuals
waiting for a bus. Art is about loss,
they seemed to play. Can you dig it, man?
And I can—suddenly 47 and away from familiar signs,
too old to be discovered; too young to be invisible,
sitting in Union Square under
the lifted tail and muscular haunches of
George Washington’s horse—its neck arched under rein,
fighting to cross East 17th to Forever 21.
Valley Forge behind, knowing not
where he’s going next, our country’s father
(in this bronzed moment) is surely unable to predict
his journey’s end: in bed with a cold, bled to death
by four doctors earnestly trying to save him.
I’m happy to sit in his moon-shadow for now,
park lamps blinking on, smell of goat cheese and ganja
finding my nose, trying not to listen to the soft clicking
next to me as two young people introduce
their oral piercings in the dark. Across the way,
the girl with the Mohawk stops playing her bongo drum
to tell a friend about a rainbow brother who saved her
in the Bronx. Took me in and we smoked a bowl—
no questions asked, no strings attached. On the corner,
a street preacher finds his voice, improvising his holy rant
on a theme of goats and sheep, dividing us into lost and saved.
We’re all both, I want to tell him, cycling through a life-long
game of hide and seek. Even me—sitting under Washington’s
horse’s ass, smoking the flare of my guilty Marlboro
to the filter and feeling the city turn on around me—
a lost coin burning to be found.
Craig van Rooyen is the winner of the 2014 Rattle Poetry Prize. His work has appeared recently in Southern Poetry Review, Willow Springs, Rattle, New Ohio Review, PANK, and elsewhere. He is a student in the MFA program at Pacific University.
Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015