Altitude

- 1957-

You’ve just died in my arms,
But suddenly it seems we’re eternal

Cali boys, Afro-haired cohorts in crime,
Racing through intricate lattices

Of quince and lemon tree shadows,
Corridors of Queen Anne’s lace—

On the skip-church Sunday you dubbed me
“Sir Serious” instead of Cyrus—

Then, swift as a deer’s leap, we’re devotees
Of goatees and showy Guatemalan shirts,

Intoxicated lovers for a month
On the northwest coast of Spain—

Praising the irrepressible sounds
Of a crusty Galician bagpiper

On La Coruña’s gripping finisterre,
Then gossiping and climbing

(Like the giddy Argonauts we were)
The lofty, ancient Roman lighthouse,

All the way—Keep on truckin’, we sang—
To the top of the Tower of Hercules—  

More by Cyrus Cassells

Return to Florence

How do I convey the shoring gold
at the core of the Florentine bells’
commingled chimes?

Vast as a suddenly revealed
field of wheat,
that up-and-away gold
is equivalent to the match-burst
morning I returned,
intent as doubting Thomas,
to my old classroom terrace,
open to the showy, blue yes
of the bustling Arno,
to my timeless, sun-laved
Basilica of Santo Spirito,
and discovered
ebullient citizens reciting,
at a hundred different posts,
the same unbetraying passage
of Dante’s Paradise.
 

The World That the Shooter Left Us

                                                       (Stand Your Ground)
 
In this one, ladies and gentlemen,
Beware, be clear: the brown man,
 
The able lawyer, the paterfamilias,
Never makes it out of the poem alive:
 
The rash, all-too-daily report,
The out of the blue bullet
 
Blithely shatters our treasured
Legal eagle’s bones and flesh—
 
In the brusque spectacle of point-blank force,
On a crimsoned street,
 
Where a revered immigrant plummets
Over a contested parking spot,
 
And the far-seeing sages insist,
Amid strident maenads
 
Of at-the-ready patrol car sirens,
Clockwork salvos,
 
The charismatic Latino lawyer’s soul
Is banished, elsewhere, without a shred
 
Of eloquence in the matter—
And the brute, churning
 
Surfaces of the world,
They bear our beloved citizen away—
 
Which means, austere saints
And all-seeing masters,
 
If I grasp your bracing challenge:
At our lives’ most brackish hour,
 
Our highest mission isn’t just to bawl,
But to turn the soul-shaking planet
 
Of the desecrated parking lot
(The anti-miracle),
 
The blunt, irascible white man’s
Unnecessary weapon,
 
And the ruse of self-defense
Into justice-cries and ballots?
 
Into newfound pledges and particles of light?

in memory of J. Garza, 1949-2017

Related Poems

"The world is a beautiful place"

                The world is a beautiful place 
                                                           to be born into 
if you don’t mind happiness 
                                             not always being 
                                                                        so very much fun 
       if you don’t mind a touch of hell
                                                       now and then
                just when everything is fine
                                                             because even in heaven
                                they don’t sing 
                                                        all the time

             The world is a beautiful place
                                                           to be born into
       if you don’t mind some people dying
                                                                  all the time
                        or maybe only starving
                                                           some of the time
                 which isn’t half so bad
                                                      if it isn’t you

      Oh the world is a beautiful place
                                                          to be born into
               if you don’t much mind
                                                   a few dead minds
                    in the higher places
                                                    or a bomb or two
                            now and then
                                                  in your upturned faces
         or such other improprieties
                                                    as our Name Brand society
                                  is prey to
                                              with its men of distinction
             and its men of extinction
                                                   and its priests
                         and other patrolmen
                                                         and its various segregations
         and congressional investigations
                                                             and other constipations
                        that our fool flesh
                                                     is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
                                                           for a lot of such things as
         making the fun scene
                                                and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
                                         and singing low songs of having 
                                                                                      inspirations
and walking around 
                                looking at everything
                                                                  and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
                              and even thinking 
                                                         and kissing people and
     making babies and wearing pants
                                                         and waving hats and
                                     dancing
                                                and going swimming in rivers
                              on picnics
                                       in the middle of the summer
and just generally
                            ‘living it up’

Yes
   but then right in the middle of it
                                                    comes the smiling
                                                                                 mortician

                                           

At a Days Inn in Barstow, California

It's dusk on a Tuesday in June. A hot wind
       bears down and east. In my room, a stranger's
hairclip lies like a gilded insect beside the sink.
       Hours later, it's still dusk; it will be dusk all night.
Last month, I cut the masking tape from a box my mother left
       my sister and me. On the lid, she wrote, Life is hard, not
unbeatable. If I can do it, darlings, so can you. 2 am. A rosy dark
       dusting the window, the heat a ladder into sleep.

Face

                     i.m. Mark Strand

Mark came into the room and said, Tom, you have
the face of a dog. Alan, you have the face
of a horse. And me, I have the face of—

but Mark couldn’t decide what kind of face
he had, or else I couldn’t in the dream
remember or maybe it was that the dream

couldn’t remember. And in the second part
of the dream Mark came into the room smiling
and laughing, and after a while he left the room

and Alan said, It’s only natural he wants
to have a good time. And when Mark didn’t come
back for a while, I went looking for him,

and though I knew where he was, I couldn’t find him.
And in the third part of the dream, Mark came
back into the room and said, No, Alan, you

have the face of a dog, Tom, you have
the face of a horse, and me, I have—
but he never did say what kind of face he had.

And in the fourth part of the dream, Mark came
back into the room and said, No, no, it’s me!
I have the face of a horse! I have the face of a dog!

And in the fifth part of the dream—
but there was no fifth part of the dream—
only Alan, me, horse, dog, and Mark

coming and going, coming and going in the room.