from “Bildungsroman”

                     i.m. Scott David Campbell (1982-2012)

 

Streetlights were our stars,
hanging from the midnight    
                                  in a planetary arc
above each empty ShopRite    
parking lot—spreading     
                                  steam-bright
through the neon dark—
buzzing like ghost locusts,
                                  trembling in the chrome
trance of an electrical charge
nested in each exoskeleton—
                                  pulling, pooling
a single syllable of light
from the long braid      
                                  of the powerlines
sighing above us as we climbed    
through bedroom windows
                                  with our hair combed
and our high-tops carefully untied—
as we clung to vinyl siding,
                                  as we crawled
crablike across rooftops, edging
toe-first toward the gutters
                                  so as not to rouse
the dogs—as we crept down    
onto cold drainpipes     
                                  through the lightning
in our lungs, leaping at last
into our shadows and at last
                                  onto the lawn,
landing as if in genuflection
to the afterhours fog—
                                  fluorescent
as the breath we left
beside us on the train tracks
                                  as we walked
each toward the others,
toward the barebulb
                                  glow of stardust
on the dumpsters
in the vacant late-night, lost

More by Malachi Black

In Our Late Empire, Love

drops from upper air,
                                         like rain,
clinging brightly
                                 to the fresh-cut hair
of children
                          and the infantry:
all hail
                 the clicking heel, all will
regale
                 the shrinking light
with grains
                      of wedding rice, of salt,
of sands as fit
                              a last brassy parade:
the marching band
                                      will soften
with its growing-distant
                                               drum,
the oscillating hand
                                        will stop
its waving
                     soon enough, soon
enough;
                   here now, the motorcade
hums
                gaily through the citizens’
applause
                       and the children’s eyes
bronze faintly
                             with the glint
of far-off fireworks,
                                    or firebombs,
or falling evening stars.

Entering Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

I have carried in my coat, black wet 
with rain. I stand. I clear my throat.

My coat drips. The carved door closes
on its slow brass hinge. City noises— 

car horns, bicycle bells, the respiration
truck engines, the whimpering 

steel in midtown taxi brakes—bend
in through the doorjamb with the wind 

then drop away. The door shuts plumb: it seals
the world out like a coffin lid. A chill, 

dampened and dense with the spent breath
of old Hail Marys, lifts from the smoothed

stone of the nave. I am here to pay
my own respects, but I will wait: 

my eyes must grow accustomed
to church light, watery and dim.

I step in. Dark forms hunch forward
in the pews. Whispering, their heads 

are bowed, their mouths pressed
to the hollows of clasped hands. 

High overhead, a gathering of shades
glows in stained glass: the resurrected 

mingle with the dead and martyred
in panes of blue, green, yellow, red. 

Beneath them lies the golden holy 
altar, holding its silence like a bell,

and there, brightly skeletal beside it,
the organ pipes: cold, chrome, quiet 

but alive with a vibration tolling
out from the incarnate 

source of holy sound. I turn, shivering
back into my coat. The vaulted ceiling 

bends above me like an ear. It waits:
I hold my tongue. My body is my prayer.

Related Poems

Rite de Passage and the Irony of the Sharpshooter

Mum sent me a photo
of a sign near Jam Tree Gully
that’s been peppered by
shotgun pellets. It’s become
a recurring image in poems
written in separation,
but tuned to zeitgeist.
But what I’ve not drawn
out of sublingual and tangled
syntax of observation
is that I have been with shooters
who’ve pierced, decorated,
illustrated or condemned
signs to damnation,
and that I have myself,
as a teenager, shot at one.
I am not sure if this
is confession, nor am
I sure it was a rite de passage,
being on my own at the time,
drunk and lonely and curious
to see if a twenty-two would
more than dent the heavy-gauge steel.
A single shot into the centre
of a crossroads sign—a desire
to bullseye, to mark ambiguity
where there was no ambiguity.
There are rules for traffic,
even where traffic is rare,
where braking on gravel
could have you slide
concurrently to a dead centre.
I listen for that pinging
of symbols and emblems,
‘instruction’ and ‘information,’
and it sounds less like a bell
than a warning shot.