Issue 14

Poetry: Lori Lamothe

Urban Polka

                    Brick buildings, gray sky,

the wind blowing back leaves

                                          like a hand trailing patterns.

On a red scale of stairs

              a woman’s hair unfurls its platinum flag,

                                a couple splits into separate lines,

and without any warning, the present

                                                      unfolds its accordion of light.


There are more people than names at your table and everybody’s shuffling chairs, trying to wedge somebody’s grace note of a baby into the lull between bread and salad. As for you, the empty space where your date would have been is filled to the brim with another couple’s argument. A man all in white wearing a cowboy hat lassoes the crowd and before you know it you’re clinking glasses, downing the future’s bright, bubbly promise of happiness. Only the band doesn’t join in. Bass, clarinet and horn weave tangled lives into something like harmony, fates to be cut at a date yet to be determined. On the other side of celebration, sails dot twilight and the city blinks on.

Constellations of windows climb skyscrapers, making a zodiac of possibility, but you can’t read your horoscope. Behind you, a red rose bouquet rises and sets in an arc that has nothing to do with you. The deck is strewn with the murmur of sex, laughter, high blood pressure pills, low-flying planes, innocuous and outlandish compliments, a cacophony of ties and sleeveless dresses. You pick your way across the small talk and open the door to the sea.


Sometimes the past steps right in front of the present:
the number 62, a face at an airport,
a name lit up on a billboard of surreal.

You might think the past would blot the present.
Or fan memory
then watch it fade on cue.

Last week your voice flamed out around the edges of someone else’s.
I couldn’t look at it
but at night, in dreams,
it burns messages across my eyelids.


Distance is blue here, blue and unlatched, as if what you thought was going to be a starched white curtain of a day is filling up, billowing out. Clouds darkly looming make a ceiling of loss and when you lift your arm you can almost touch it. Grief is smaller too, as if you could step over it [easily] with your seven-league boots. Even the brass compass pressed into cement lacks authority, can’t keep its points from breaking formation. All the mountains and towns and dark tops of trees are escaping their circles, rushing headlong and motionless out of their latitudes.

Winds come freeing and your mind is blue now too, clear blue, rinsed with wind and light and absence, and nothing seems to mean what it does. Suddenly you’re convinced you’re the sort of person who can start a fire in a flood, who rides horses bareback, who handles kayaks with aplomb. Suddenly you realize you could shake your paperweight life and make a blizzard of sadness. The violent tint of your mind radiates enough heat to fuel your heart forever. The silence of your cell phone is lost in a perpetual tango of risk.